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August 22nd, 2017

Why We’re Here

It helps to remember why we’re here. We’re here today not so much to grieve a death, although we are certainly doing that. We’re here to celebrate life – the rather remarkable 48 years Doug Leatherman lived on this planet, and the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

I remember 18 months ago when I first heard that Doug had been diagnosed with colon cancer. I think it was Anissa who said something like, “We’re remembering that cancer is not a death sentence.” Why do I bring that up today? Because she’s still right. I’m wondering how many people in this room have at some point in your life been diagnosed with cancer. If you don’t mind, I’d like you to stand in witness to the fact that cancer’s not a death sentence. Doug would not be envious of you. He would be so proud of you, so glad for you. Don’t forget that.

We’re wearing blue clothes and ribbons today because it was Doug’s favorite color, the color of his SJ Cruiser. It also happens to be the color for colon cancer awareness. The fight against this and every other form of cancer rages on, and even though Doug’s cancer arrived two years before recommended screenings, he would want you to be aware of the signs and risks of colon cancer and pay attention to them.

So we’re certainly here today to remember the frailty and brevity of life, and to mourn with those who mourn. This has been a journey full of terrifying days, none more startling than 10 days ago when the news spread to one person at a time that Doug had only a few days left. But that gave his family and a lot of friends the chance to say goodbye, and as pastor I was incredibly proud of how Anissa, Brady, Carter, and a whole host of people handled that final week in Hospice. Anissa and Abby have both expressed their appreciation to you in the bulletin insert. (The text of this insert is at the end of this message, under “Tributes from Family and Friends.” Click here for an additional letter from Anissa.)

There will be more hard days ahead, but this day is about how Doug lived 48 full years overflowing with meaning, joy, and Jesus. This day is about remembering that all who, like Doug, trust Jesus Christ will rise with him to unending joy in the Lord’s presence.

Tonight I want to share with you The Gospel According to Doug. Whenever I speak at a service like this, I sift through my own memories of a person and also listen to family and friends. God has created every one of us in his image, and I look for ways the person whose life we’re celebrating reminds me of God. When the person is a strong and faithful believer, I especially look for ways the Gospel was on display in that person. With Doug it wasn’t hard.

I sat down last Friday with Anissa, Brady, Carter, and other family members in the Leatherman home, and have also read many written tributes, including the ones in your bulletin inserts. I was also struck by that display word collage in Doug’s room over at Hospice, created by Joni Fallaw and Jennifer Stafford. It included so many nicknames and descriptive phrases for Doug –

  • “Loves Jesus”
  • “Don’t take no crap”
  • “Swim taxi”
  • “Picks on me”
  • “Dadsaster”
  • “Cracks himself up”

You can read the rest over in Bost Memorial Hall during our gathering time along with other mementos. I couldn’t include everything people have said in my meditation tonight, but the printed and online version will incorporate everything sent my way.

As I read all those reflections, the one line spoken that summarized The Gospel According to Doug more than any other was when Anissa said, “He could be tough but he was tender.” She would know that more than anyone, but we all saw it.

That line took me to The Gospel According to Mark, chapter 10, to that well-known scene where the crowds brought little children to Jesus for a blessing. Mark and the other three evangelists told stories about what Jesus did to illustrate his character. This story puts Jesus’ toughness and his tenderness on display. We’re going to share stories about Doug to show how he was both tough and tender.

Tough Doug

Let’s talk first about Tough Doug. Before I do, let me remind you that I’m highlighting this character trait because it looks like Jesus. There were many times and ways in which Jesus exhibited toughness.

You probably wouldn’t think first of the story of Jesus and the Children when you think about Tough Jesus, but if you think that’s only about Tender Jesus, read it again. What happens is that people bring children to Jesus, and Jesus gets mad. He doesn’t get mad at the children or at the parents who brought them. He gets mad at the disciples who rebuked the people bringing children. Mark says that Jesus became “indignant.” That’s a tough word. It means to be incensed, to be painfully angry, and (get this meaning), to grieve much. So if your response to Doug’s death is that you’re so sad you’re mad, that’s what it means to be indignant. And that was Jesus’ tough response to his disciples when they tried shooing away the children.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus was toughest with the people closest to him. Doug’s family maybe knew the tough part of him more than others. As Anissa said, “You always knew where you stood with him.” He probably could have had a better filter at times, but he was honest, even if brutally so. One of the first times he met his future mother-in-law, he told her, “I don’t do casseroles and I don’t do leftovers.”

Several guys Doug touched through Young Life sent notes to Anissa that last week. Parker Richardson shared the story of a small group Bible study where one particular verse was hard to understand. “No one had a clue what the verse meant,” Parker said, “and after a minute of silence from the room Doug spoke and said , ‘Yeah I don’t get it either but it’s not the point anyway and here is the bigger point.’” I love the kind of honesty that doesn’t have to have all the answers.

Speaking of Doug’s honesty, I remember being at his bedside one of those last days at Catawba as he was telling others they needed to get out of the room and let him rest. Everyone else slipped out, and I figured he wanted a few minutes alone with me. When we were alone, he said, “You too, Pastor Bob.” I think they were the last words he actually spoke to me personally. Pretty good message for a pastor, don’t you think? When I’m preaching to others about what they need to do, I need to hear Tough Doug’s voice saying, “You too, Pastor Bob.”

You can see Doug’s Toughness displayed in Carter especially. Whether it’s playing in a volleyball game the afternoon before he died, saying, “I’m going to strike that ball like it’s cancer,” or just reacting with passion and determination when she got the news her Dad was so close to the end, Carter can match pretty much anyone in the tough category. I liked how she said it:  “I’m just like him in a female body.” Carter gets her love for sports competition from her Dad, and her teammates made him a poster, “We Dig for Doug,” for his Hospice room.

When Doug joined Corinth, we asked Doug to identify one unusual fact about himself. He wrote, “Harold Johnson from WSOC sports once compared me to the late Maryland basketball great Len Bias for my basketball skills.”

Brady told a great story about his Dad that displayed his competitive nature. Father and son had gone off for a “Passport to Purity” weekend, but that rite of passage isn’t what stood out for Brady. What he remembered most was the father-son Par 3 golf game that capped the weekend. They got to the final hole with Brady leading his Dad by two strokes. You’d think with one 90-yard hole to go, game over, right? But Tough Doug was not about to let his 12-year-old take him. So, in Brady’s words, “He got into my head.” Brady overshot the green, took two shots getting out of a bunker, and lost the round by two shots.

Competition for Doug included punctuality. His brother-in-law Mark said he had to be there 15 minutes early and would pass you in his car to get there first. It also included his work life. He started out after college selling NASCAR racing apparel, then later worked in the furniture industry until he went to work as a sales manager for Pacific Coast Feather Cushion Company. What made Doug good as a manager or salesman was not only his larger-than-life personality and sense of humor but his fiercely competitive nature – his toughness.

The anchor you see on the bookmark and the bulletin insert is a great symbol for Tough Doug. As he battled cancer, Anissa’s Aunt Linda gave Doug a golden pendant of a mariner’s cross, which combines a cross and an anchor. The mariner’s cross is also known as St. Clement’s cross. Clement was a first century Christian who was martyred by being tied to an anchor and then drowned. Through the years the mariner’s cross has been a symbol of prayer to Christ to bring sailors home.

Doug loved water, all water, especially the Gulf of Mexico, where some of his ashes will be scattered. Doug was planning to start a foundation to fight colon cancer and decided the mariner’s cross would be a good symbol. Family members and others, including a tattoo artist, drew sketches. Last month when Doug was hospitalized, his brother Nelson drew his sketch on a napkin and by the next afternoon Nelson had the tattoo on his arm.

(Side story:  When people would ask Doug if he had a tattoo, he would respond one of two ways. He might say, “None you can see,” maintaining a certain mystery about him. But my favorite response if you asked Doug if he had a tattoo was, “You wouldn’t put a sticker on a Corvette.”)

More importantly, the mariner’s cross connects Tough Doug’s cancer battle to Hebrews 6, an interesting chapter because it begins with one of those hard-to-understand passages about falling away from the faith. But the chapter ends with the certainty of God’s promise, that it’s impossible for God to lie. The writer continues, “This hope we have as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

When I wonder about whether I can lose my salvation I have to go back to the fact that I’m not the anchor. I’m in the boat. And my confidence does not rest on my ability to stay in the boat nor does it waver with the strength of the storm. My salvation is secure because Jesus is the anchor for my soul.

Tender Doug

If all we talked about was Tough Doug, we’d miss at least half of him. Let’s talk a bit about Tender Doug. Who better than his Mom to start that theme? She called him a “real lovable baby,” and said he was a snuggler from the start. Brady added that his Dad snuggled him as well. Doug’s love language was quality time, and right after that, physical touch.

The Gospel According to Mark says Jesus welcomed children. The newest stained glass window at Corinth over in our Preschool wing was placed there earlier this year by John and Marilyn Moretz, whose son Steven died at only 9 months of age. The window depicts this scene from Mark – the Tender Jesus with kids on his lap and all around. The Gospel According to Doug looks a lot like that.

Tender Doug loved kids, and they loved him. His nephew Andrew always wanted to be around Uncle Doug. During Doug’s battle with cancer, Andrew told him, “I get down on my knees and pray for you.” Anissa called Doug “a community father.” She said he loved to pursue children without expecting anything in return. He coached them, immersed himself in their worlds, gave advice, encouraged. His own kids, whom he nicknamed Bubba and Pumpkin Poo, obviously knew about Tough Doug, but they were embraced by Tender Doug as well. Doug also had a soft spot for animals – dogs when he was growing up, but his family turned him into a cat person as well.

It wasn’t just kids and animals, though. Doug was just a great friend to so many people. Wesley Spencer knew that more than any of us, and you can read his thoughts in the bulletin insert he put together for Doug. Wes, that’s an incredible tribute to how he loved you, but also to how you loved him well. Everyone needs a friend like that, but few men find one.

You can’t talk about Tender Doug with talking about the love of his life, Anissa. The story of their beginning is worth telling. Anissa’s mother Jan, who’s a hairdresser, was working with a client, Lena, to put on a fashion show. They got Anissa to model a bridal gown. Separately, Lena Piercy had persuaded Doug to work the show. Doug definitely had second thoughts about it all and had decided to back out. The Sunday before, however, he went to church at Lakeview Baptist and the pastor preached on keeping your commitments. Doug was stuck.

For her part, Anissa came to the show tired from a women’s retreat. As fate would have it – or let’s say as believers, as God planned it– she was paired with Doug in the show. Afterward, he asked her out – not next week or next month, but, like tonight, after the show. He later swore if she hadn’t said yes, he would never have called her. Tired though she was, she went, and came home saying, “He talks a lot.” From then on, the conversation was always easy. Anissa said Doug knew something about almost every topic – a human rolodex. He bought her a ring 4 weeks later and held it for 8 weeks until he gave it to her on Cinco de Mayo, 1995. That’s not surprising for impulsive Doug, but Anissa the planner shocked her friends and family. She called her brother Mark to say, “I’m engaged,” and he deadpanned, “To who?”

Everybody in Anissa’s family was charmed by Doug. Her dad said he was glad she finally met “a man” and there would be no more “boyfriends.” One year to the week after the bridal show Doug and Anissa were married. Anissa, you promised you’d love him “til death do us part.” You did, and he was blessed to love you.

From time to time people say to pastors or maybe to all of you, “I don’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites.” Churches are full of sinners, it’s true. It’s our biggest problem, you know – sinners all over the place. Sometimes I’d like to just get rid of all the sinners, and then… yeah, there would be nobody left. But if you’re going to meet our sinners, I’d like you to get to know people like Doug Leatherman – sometimes unfiltered, sometimes a little too tough, sometimes a little too tender, but always on the path of becoming more like Jesus, and always committed to being with other believers in that path. Randy and Kim Turner remembered the time Doug and Anissa walked into their Sunday School class as relatively newlywed. Randy and Kim decided they would mentor this couple, but instead found Doug and Anissa so committed to serving and growing and modeling Jesus.

According to Doug

As I close I want to return to that comment Anissa made when she and Doug first learned about his cancer:  “Cancer is not a death sentence.” True in one sense, but today we face the reality that sometimes it is. The broader truth is that life is a death sentence. Since Genesis 3, everyone who has ever lived has died. It sometimes seems to us very unfair that one person gets 88 years and someone else gets 8 and someone else gets 48. But you and I have all been blessed with the amazing miracle of life, and everyone who lives dies.

I’m 100% sure if Doug could speak today, he’d tell us a few things very plainly. First, he’d repeat what he told Abby as you can read in the bulletin insert: “Don’t worry about me. I’m more than OK. I’m enjoying all God created me to be here in married land.” Second, he’d say “Don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out how long you’ll be on the earth or how to eke out a few more days or even years. Just maximize the time you have to love God with all your heart and love the people he puts around you with toughness and tenderness.” Third, I’m quite sure he’d say, “I want you to know Jesus, because he’s the way, the truth and the life.” That’s the Gospel according to John.

One of the parts of the story of Jesus and the little children that is easy to overlook, and that combines tough and tender, is that Jesus said, “I tell you truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” That’s tender, because he wants tender hearts like kids have. But it’s tough, because he says not everyone’s getting in. That’s the Gospel according to Mark.

Doug accepted Christ when he was 10, then drifted away from the Lord as he grew up. His grandmother prayed for him until he recommitted his life to Christ, which was before he met Anissa. From that time he’s been blessed to love and be loved by his parents and sister and brother, then by Anissa and her family, then the Lord added Brady and Carter and his nieces and nephews, and he also deeply bonded on one level or another with everyone here. If he could speak now, he’d tell us to be tough when you need to be tough, be tender when you need to be tender, and keep Jesus in the center of everything. That’s the Gospel according to Doug. Amen.

 

Tributes from Family and Friends

Anissa Leatherman

To each of you here today, and even those who couldn’t be, I just wanted to take a small moment to mention our gratefulness to you.  I am completely humbled by the innumerable ways in which you have helped carry us through the toughest part of our lives, not only through the past week, but over the past 6 months, and even during the year before that.  Please know that for every call…for every text…for every card, letter, or note that you have sent our way….for every prayer that you’ve told us you have uttered on our behalf and even for all the silent ones that reached our Father’s ears, please know that Doug and I have always wanted to tell you how much it meant and how much it helped to bring encouragement and provide strength when we had none.  We never felt worthy of the attention, the kindness or the generosity which you lavished upon us.  For every morsel of food you provided and meal you prepared, or cookies and snacks you dropped by our door….for every gift card you sent our way, or the time you devoted to our home improvement instead of your own.  For volunteering to run errands, or even kids to practice….For every embrace you provided, for your unending compassion and empathy in one way or another, we thank you.  We thank you for crying with us and for us and holding us up along this path we reluctantly walked.  And thank you for never losing the hope that only Christ provides.

We are immensely thankful and grateful for each of you, and though your kindnesses can never be repaid, they will certainly never be forgotten.  You have been the hands and feet of Jesus during a time we needed you the most, and words cannot fully express our gratitude.  We love you!

Doug and Anissa Leatherman

Nelson Leatherman (brother)

I really looked up to him as an older brother, even as an adult even remembering how he encouraged me with scripture and a letter the day of my own deacon ordination. And how I would randomly text or call how for advice or opinions anytime.

Abby Lanes (sister)

I’ll never forget the day Doug told me about his diagnosis, Stage 4, Colon Cancer. He was only 47. He wasn’t even old enough to have his first colonoscopy.

No one likes to hear the C word, and especially Stage 4!

He told me, I’m not worried about me, I know I’ll be okay.   But I’m worried about Anissa, Brady and Carter.

He told me later, he had been scared when he first heard the news. I was scared.  All I knew to do was start praying. And I knew that he and Anissa had a powerful connection to God.

I came to visit NC shortly after that diagnosis and I felt the love pouring on Doug, Anissa, Brady and Carter. The mailbox was full of encouraging mail, the freezer was filled with prepared crockpot meals, people delivered home cooked meals, and Doug never spent a single time getting chemo alone. Someone was always there.  The love was so obvious in so many ways, the prayers, the gifts, and the kindness, I was able to travel back to California and know that Doug and his family were being well loved.

God’s love was pouring out on Doug and his family through every person they knew.

Throughout this 20-month journey, I have watched all of you practice love in action.  I want to thank you. Thank you to every single one of you who has shared your love and kindness.  I am thankful for Anissa’s parents, all of your prayer groups, Doug’s employer for making it possible for him to continue working through all the treatments, Doug’s oncologist for getting him to the right medical plan at each stage.  I’m grateful for the spiritual guidance for Doug and Anissa from their minister.  I am grateful to Doug’s childhood and current friends, his Volleyball family, his best friend Wes, and his church.  I’m so impressed with your many ministries, including handyman help. I appreciate you for creating of his lifeline page.  Thank you to his college fraternity for reaching out to him, and thank you graduating class of 1987.  All of you showed up at just the right time and made a positive difference.  I’m honestly afraid I’m leaving someone out, but just know, all of your love was felt and appreciated.

I’m grateful to God, for his Power to help Doug and his family carry on each day.

Finally, I’m thankful God gave us Doug.  He’s been a most loving husband to the love of his life Anissa, and a dedicated, caring, and amazing father to Brady and Carter Grace, a wonderful, thoughtful son to his parents, and a fun-loving caring brother and a friend to his siblings, and all of our extended family.

He came into this world giving and receiving love freely and in such a warm and fun loving way.  I can tell by the love you gave him, you loved our tender hearted Doug, too.

A month ago when I visited him he said, “I’m gonna keep on fighting.  But I’m not worried either way, and you shouldn’t either.”  And I know that’s because he knew no matter what, thanks to his relationship with Jesus, if the Good Lord called home, he would be okay.

I love you Doug.  We all love you. I know you’ve gone to your eternal home and we will all see you again one day.  Thank you for being you.  I was lucky to have you in my life.  We all were.

Your big sis!

Abby

Kim Turner

Eighteen years ago, Doug and Anissa, walked into our Sunday School class at Lakeview.  We knew immediately this couple was special and that they were going to be our good friends.  We had just moved into a new house.  Doug and Anissa were always there for us… Helping to paint, move furniture, take down wallpaper… whatever the need may be.  We tried to mentor them, love on them and just do “life” with them.  We thought so much of them, that they became our children’s godparents. Doug and Anissa were always there for our children…even when they became young adults. We always wanted to be an example for Doug and Anissa, to help them with their walk with the Lord, to teach them how to be godly parents and to continually show them the love of Christ.  After all, we were older and surely wiser than them???

Doug Leatherman was the one that taught us so much about life.  He was the one who showed us what a life for Christ looked like.  He was the one that showed us how to be a godly husband and father.  He was the one who showed us how important it is to make a impact on people for Christ. He was the one that showed us that a legacy for Christ is what counts on this earth.

We will miss our friend here on earth but are certain we will see him again in heaven.  And, we are certain his legacy for Christ will continue on with Anissa, Brady and Carter.

Jeremy Mobley (Young Life)

I was terribly sorry to hear how quickly things have progressed and just wanted to pass my thoughts and prayers to you and the kids. If you are still able to pass along messages to Doug I would love for him (and you) to know how much he meant to me and the guys in such a critical time in our lives. As a father of two now and knowing how much commitment it takes to raise a family, the fact that he was willing to spend so much time with us is even more appreciated in hindsight. To meet with him for dinner a couple months back after 20 years and feeling like we picked up right where we left off made me realize how authentic what we have is. I appreciated his dedication and have no doubt that I am the person I am today and made some of the decisions I made (or didn’t make) because of what he helped instill in us in God’s teaching, in not being afraid to show a love for God and being a role model of a man and father. Please pass my thoughts, thanks and love to him and tell him not to try and fire anyone in heaven!

Mike Ferguson (Young Life)

Please tell Doug that I wouldn’t be where I am without him. I’ve never been able to come up with words to thank him enough for his leadership and discussions that lead me to Christ. A bag of tootsie pops and his determination was all it took. I love you brother. See you when I get there.

Parker Richardson (Young Life)

Two things about Doug that he taught me.

Memory 1

No one will ever or should ever feel an idiot about your relationship with God. One of the first ever bible studies I ever had with Doug in high school he taught me this. No one had a clue what the verse meant and after a minute of silence from the room Doug spoke and said ” Yeah I don’t get it either but it’s not the point anyway and here is the bigger point.”  That was the first moment I ever had an adult thought about the Bible and God. Until I spent years floating through various youth groups and I hated them to be honest mainly because I felt they instilled in me not to question and you must know the Bible as if you went to Seminary. So my faith has survived and evolved to this day because of Doug Leatherman.

Memory 2

I suffered an injury in HS Football and could not play anymore and it was devastating beyond a healthy point for me. Somehow I got the idea I would train myself to punt. I thought punters don’t really get hit so I was creating a loophole. ( I know I am an idiot.) Anyway I talked Doug into being my first personal punting coach. He said sure and every day the following fall when Doug would get off work he would pick me up and take me to Glen Hilton park. Every day he would spend however long it took until I learned the exact mechanics. Now Doug had to know I could not play ball again but never said anything about it and still gave that time and effort. At the end of the fall my parents had the talk about facing reality and moving on. What Doug did those 4 fall months was give a 17 year old kid daily therapy and I never picked up on the jedi mind trick. Fast forward years later and I am coming out of my GA year at Coastal and while Coach Bennett was trying to figure out how to make me official on staff he asked me you know anything about the specialists. The kickers and Punters and long snapper were about to head back to the HS ranks and so I lied and said ” sure I wrote the book on punting”. I remembered every iota of what Doug taught those years back. I was able to get a full time spot and it I carried that with me to Southern Miss. Thank goodness no specialist ever asked me to actually demonstrate kicking the ball myself but You fake it until you make it. So Doug Leatherman actually kept me from being a HS kid from going “to hell and backsliding ” and he loved me enough to humor me that later gave me the slimmest opportunity to achieve my dream. No reason a kid from Catawba Co with no major college playing time should ever spend Saturday afternoons standing on sidelines in SEC and Big 12 stadiums. Needless to say it is hard coming to grips that there is another hole to fill shortly. I hope in the days to come I have a chance to pay back Doug’s family especially his kids if they won’t have it. I love you Doug Leatherman!!

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