When he was 6, my cousin, Timothy Isaiah Holmes, had a question. At The Learning Center for the Deaf in Massachusetts, Tim's teacher handed out pieces of blank paper and told the students to draw a picture representing their question.
Tim eventually had pages and pages of a man on a cross. But he didn't have the language to help him understand who this man was. He didn't yet have a language for the hope that he would come to have and the Savior he would come to know.
Tim died last month during his first week of graduate school at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology. At 24, his death was unexpected - from an apparent heart attack caused by an enlarged heart. It is a devastating blow to our family, especially his parents, Harvey and Tameka Holmes, and his younger brother Vincent. His niece Tori is just 9-months-old. We struggle to understand why someone who overcame so many obstacles was taken from us.
I turned to Tim’s Facebook page to see what had been going on in his life and what people were writing about him. We texted and messaged every once in a while, but not recently. We had time, I thought.
What I found on Tim’s wall were messages of disbelief, shock, sadness and love. He was a role model. He was an amazing performer. He was kind and joyful. And funny. Image after image of his smiling face. Videos of him dancing. These were good.
And then I came to those who wrote of Tim's faith in Jesus Christ, the ones who wrote of seeing him again because of their shared faith. These were transformative.
God's community can be found in different places.
You see, I never talked about Jesus with Tim. Our conversations were fairly limited because I never learned sign language, despite all the times I said to myself that I would. But what I found in the Facebook posts were people who knew about his deep wellspring of faith - not necessarily because they spent time together in a certain church building, but because they experienced God’s community through Tim.
Looking back, I realized that his faith was in everything he did. And he showed it to the people who knew him best - his community at NTID. Everywhere my cousin went, God was with him. He was welcoming, inclusive and he pulled you into his family. He served. He smiled and gave two thumbs up. He was a friend. He loved. He represented the love that Jesus had for him.
So many of us misunderstand "community" in the context of the Christian faith. How do you explain something that may look different than it does in the Bible, where early Christians gave up their possessions and lived together? It doesn't always make sense in today's individualistic society.
What I have learned from Tim's life is that God's community can be found in different places. It can be in the smile and the hug of a friend. It can be in the encouragement from someone you just met. It can be in how and why you love. Tim gave and received that - with those who taught him how to communicate and those friends and professors who saw him come into his adulthood.
When he drew those pictures of the man on the cross as a child, his teacher and the school administrator explained what they could, and told him to ask his parents. He asked his mother. She told him about our Savior. And Tim believed. He had a name for the hope that he had. That name is Jesus.