LeeBoy Hugs

April 29th, 2024, will be the three-year anniversary of Lee’s “Homegoing” to spend eternity with Jesus, family, and friends (old and new). He wakes up every day filled with joy and eternal pleasures (Psalm 16:11). That’s what he’s been experiencing since his passing. For us…not so much. I don’t think he misses us or longs to be with us, not just because of the eternal pleasures and joy, but because he knows we will be with him momentarily. He has a different view of time and this life. 

For us, on the other hand, grief has been a constant companion and teacher. We have a void in our lives and a hole in our hearts that nothing seems to fill. We realize we always will because the only way we could grieve less is to have loved him less. And we have been so thankful to have had a relationship so great that the absence of it has left that great hole in our lives. The hole doesn’t feel as big now, not just because of the passing of time but because of healthy grieving and our certainty that our relationship is just interrupted.  Also, we have our other kids and grandkids to focus on. Their love, and loving them back, fills our hearts with comfort and joy. We have learned that it is possible to be filled with joy and thanksgiving for God’s gifts and blessings and still experience grief and loss at the same time. 

In our three years of grieving, we’ve gained valuable insights. For us, it’s become clear just how fleeting life can be. Our focus has shifted towards cherishing those in our lives and living with intentionality through Living-Connected. Writing about the life-shaping principles that Lee left us with has been cathartic and exciting. Most of all it has kept him near and not so far away. We recently launched the “LeeBoy Shoes” line after his love for diversity and desire to connect with the marginalized people he bumped into daily. I don’t remember exactly when he started wearing mismatched shoes, but it became one of his trademarks and talking points.

Lee learned to accept and appreciate people of different colors, cultures, and perspectives. He ran with curiosity toward “different people,” which most of us would shy away from. If you stood out in a crowd because you were a little different looking, or if you just appeared uncomfortable or awkward, Leeboy found you and made friends with you. He didn’t like being around groups who looked and thought alike. He valued diversity and thought everyone who was a bit different had something valuable to offer. What others saw as different, he saw as unique.

He believed that about people, too! People who you wouldn’t think would go well together often make the best matches. We are all people with unique differences, and Leeboy believed that we all should spend more time celebrating our differences rather than trying to get others to be more like us.

Another thing I miss most about Lee is his hug! Everyone who knew him missed his hugs. “Leeboy” hugs were like none other. He hugged everyone, not just people he knew—even strangers. And he hugged you in a way that felt uncomfortable initially but left you wanting it to last longer. It was a hug that said, “You are valuable, I see you, and I care about you.”

Hugging the way Lee hugged brought healing. It was the perfect bookend to a soul-to-soul connection, one that you would not forget because you probably had not been hugged so genuinely before. It went beyond the caring that the human touch can bring. It penetrated down to the core of your emotions … a kind of euphoria … because it was proof that you were seen and you mattered to someone.

When Leeboy Hugs Began

I remember when I noticed the Leeboy hugs. It was right after returning from a month of rehab at the Rosomoff Pain Clinic in Miami. Lee, age 18,  entered the clinic in a wheelchair, unable to walk and in immense pain. A month later, we saw him dance out. It was truly a life-changing experience on many levels.

After the clinic experience, Lee began to see life (and people) differently. When he returned home, he began greeting everyone with a long hug as if it were the last time he would ever see them. We thought he was showing his friends how much he appreciated their friendship, but he was hugging people he met for the first time like that.

I wanted to hear about his life-changing experience at the clinic, so I took him and his brother Drew on a business trip where I taught a class. We were having breakfast at the hotel the second morning when the discussion about Lee “hugging everyone” came up. In no uncertain terms, Drew said that not everyone was comfortable with it. He said assuming that all people needed or wanted a hug was rude. Lee defended himself by saying that he cared about people and everyone needed to know that someone cared. Lee said that people needed to be loved, and he wanted to love them the way God loved them.

Drew reiterated his point and was still against Lee imposing hugs on others. Then God did one of those things He does best by setting up an opportunity to make His point. As we were sitting there discussing this, a couple of middle-aged men who had been in my class the day before came up to the table to greet me. I stood and introduced them to my sons. 

Naturally, Lee stood up and hugged each of them … with a “Leeboy hug.” The men seemed slightly uncomfortable with the whole hugging thing, but they were gracious nonetheless. After they left, Drew said, “See, you did it again, and they didn’t like it. Stop . . . hugging . . . everyone!” 

After we finished breakfast, I walked by the table where the two men were sitting, so I stopped to say goodbye. One of them stood up, shook my hand with both of his, looked me in the eye, and said, “It was very nice to meet your sons, and please tell your son thanks for the hug. I haven’t been hugged like that in a long time.” As I saw the tears form in this man’s eyes, I recognized that this was not an accident—it was God using this moment to confirm how adversity had shaped Lee and to confirm the effect of his signature Leeboy hug.  

Science suggests that hugging can profoundly affect both physical and emotional well-being, kindling a sense of connection and support between individuals. A long hug typically conveys deeper emotions and intimacy than a short one. Lee believed everyone needed to know how important it is to feel this kind of value, even from strangers.

I realize that not everyone is a hugger, and everyone has a different-sized personal space. I’m not suggesting that everyone become one. It was Lee’s signature way of connecting soul to soul. Have you thought about what you do to engage in a meaningful connection with others? LeeBoy hugs can be life-altering for people who give and receive them.

Perhaps you should see for yourself.