This is a story 8 years in the making.
It starts in 2014 when I moved into my wife’s apartment after we got married. We sent off a letter to the landlord explaining that we - since we were now married - would like to amend the lease agreement to include my name. We were excited. Our first official mail sent as a married couple!
The landlord replied swiftly - with an emphatic “No.” I could live there, but I would not be put on the lease. In San Francisco, this is perfectly legal, though very frustrating.
The story continues 13 months later with the unexpected and sudden death of my wife, a few short weeks after our son Hosea was born. Family, friends - and even strangers - rallied to support us in all the ways you would hope for (and more) during a time of personal tragedy.
When you’re in the throes of raising a newborn baby and mourning the loss of your spouse, you forget to do many things - things that might seem ordinary, or things that are important. One of those things I forgot to do was to inform the landlord of Aletha’s passing.
And then, when I realized many months later, I feared to tell them. I’m not on the lease. Will they kick me out? Will they raise the rent to the current sky-rocketing rates? I won’t be able to afford that - where will we live? Will we have to uproot our lives?
So I didn’t tell them. I just kept paying rent. No questions asked, no answers given. Give the money and run.
Then, things slowly returned to “normal.” Well, the “new normal” - whatever those words mean. The earth kept turning, life went on, and I adapted and grew around the lake of grief and confusion in my heart.
There’s a moment in the journey of grief when everyone around you seems like they’re back on track but you’re still struggling to find your footing. And there’s an unspoken, perhaps unintentional pressure and expectation that you should be moving along faster than you are. That you should be better, should be more capable.
But you’re still stuck. You can’t quite swim to shore in this sticky, slimy molasses-like ocean of grief.
And then your fridge breaks.
And you worry because the landlord won’t get you a new one - you’re not on the lease; you can’t even call them. They will only speak to Aletha but she can’t exactly call them and ask for a new fridge.
So you resign to dealing with it yourself. You do a deep-dive search for used fridges and new ones but because your kitchen is so small, you don’t have many options. You cry when you realize how much a fridge costs. But you know that you can’t go without a fridge. Your son needs his milk! Goodbye savings!
And so, on one ordinary, busy day, in September of 2018, while sitting in the church office and feeling particularly sorry for myself, a letter arrived.
It was addressed to me, but had the church office address. That’s strange. I don’t ever get mail here.
I opened the letter, and as the beauty of what it contained sifted slowly into my soul, my tears dropped onto the beautiful handwritten ink.
I will share this letter with you now:
I hope you and Hosea are well! We only met briefly at Aletha’s service, and so I embarrassingly admit this feels awkward to write you. So I hope you will grant me grace.
I was at church on Sunday, and the guest speaker Michael Jr (a national level comedian) delivered a funny and inspirational sermon. In it, Michael said: “Are you struggling with giving or receiving with God, with Jesus? If you are struggling with it here on earth, with generosity, or receiving generosity, then you will struggle everywhere. Including with Jesus.” And he issued a challenge about giving and receiving to us.
So I went home, and your wedding song “A Thousand Years” came up randomly a couple times (and I rarely listen to popular music). Since it played at the memorial service, this song helps remind me of Aletha. I thought of Aletha’s smile, her laugh. I felt this definitive thought:
“Give to Vincent and Hosea. For something they need or want.”
I didn’t know the best way to do this, but here’s a check. Please think of it as an old friend of Aletha’s wanting to honor her. I think to myself, maybe she would want to do something to spoil the two of you. Maybe there’s a current need. Or stick it in a college fund if nothing obvious emerges. Whatever moves you and I trust you will know.
Thanks for letting me practice giving, without fear and in obedience to God and with His resources. It all belongs to Him.
All my best and His blessings to both of you
Tucked inside the letter was a check made out for exactly the price of the fridge I had just bought.
I wrote back immediately, telling what a miraculous gift this had been, and how it was so much more than just money or a fridge - it was a reminder of God’s perfect faithfulness and providence. It rekindled hope in me.
I also wanted to tell Michael Jr what an impact his sermon had on all of our lives. I wanted him to hear firsthand that how we encourage and inspire others really does make a difference - often in ways we will never get to see. So I put a reminder on my phone to “write to comedian Michael Jr.”
That was four years ago. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve had this reminder in my phone since 10/19/18. It’s still there. Unchecked. Unmarked. Incomplete.
But maybe now that I’ve written this into the eternal annals of cyberspace, it will find its way to Michael Jr. Maybe he will be sitting in his office on an ordinary, busy day, feeling a little lost and discouraged - just as I was all those years ago - and he’ll read this and how much his words sparked inspiration in someone’s life, who in turn breathed hope into mine.