For those of you who don’t know me, our little community of family and friends lost a great one on Sunday. Russell Stansberry, Jr. I wanted to dedicate my devotional this month to them. This is my “Russell (and Shawnte) story.”

I didn’t know Shawnte and Russell when they got married. Or when Russell was diagnosed. Or even in the years right after the cancer was discovered. We began visiting Dutch Valley Baptist Church six or seven years ago (I’m terrible at remembering dates). And I remember the first time someone told me Russell had a brain tumor. I was shocked. This perfectly healthy-appearing man with such a great outlook and cheery attitude couldn’t possibly have brain cancer. No way. But soon we got to know them and learned that yes, in fact, this was true. I don’t know if my shock ever truly wore off. Russell and Shawnte have continued to shock me through these last years–in the way they have smiled, laughed, and rejoiced in the midst of a terrible disease. And the more I got to know them, the more my respect and admiration grew.

I’m not gonna lie. This week has been rough. I’ve had the privilege of helping coordinate food for the after-funeral reception and co-plan a baby shower, both this week. It’s rather poetic don’t you think? And Russell would’ve liked that a new baby is being celebrated at the same time his life was being remembered. And I am so honored to have been a small part of it all.

Even after Russell’s surgery, when that left side of his was not responding as well, he never ceased to offer me help when I’d show up at church with a million bags and five kids in tow. He never failed to ask to hold my baby or shake my daughters’ hands. He never failed to raise his hand and praise God. And he never failed to answer positively when I asked, “How are you?”

Shawnte and Russell have been “that couple” for me. The one that you secretly watch when they think you aren’t looking, and smile when he pulls out her chair. Or she brings him a plate of food with a kiss. Or they are sitting in their car enjoying quiet time catching up with each other’s day. They’ve had a beautiful love, a rare love, a love worth looking up to. Shawnte told me once that their relationship was special because they’d faced death together. And I knew what she meant by that. They knew how important each minute of life was because they knew their minutes together weren’t infinite. She also told me she was ‘spoiled’ by that big teddy bear of hers. And I’m so glad she was. She deserved it, and Russell loved doing the spoiling, I do believe.

What an amazing testimony they have lived for all of us, providing a real-life example of a God-directed marriage, showing the grace of God in vivid presence in their life, and sharing the joy of laughter through the sorrow of life’s trials. I am honored to call them friend. #LoveLikeRuss #StansberryStrong


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