A friend died. Although I never knew him.
One of the things I keep coming back to is God’s way of weaving lives together. I have for the last few years taught a course called “Welcome to the Revolution” at my local church. My friend was in this class. He was the type of person who, if you saw on a dark street corner, you’d change sides. He was gruff. With a gravelly voice. And a violent past. His tattoos revealed the fact that he was both angry and violent.
I remember the first time I saw him in church. I didn’t consciously think much about it, but I recall thinking he was someone that didn’t “fit” in with the church. He just stood out, and I thought, “man, I’d hate to upset him.”
I saw him a few weeks later getting baptized.
And then a few weeks later he was in my class.
He was still gruff. Had a gravelly voice. His tattoos still screamed at me. He was also hard to look at. Not because of the way he looked, but because of the intensity of God’s light that shone through him. When I looked at him, I could see Jesus staring back at me. And I realized that everything I had thought about him was wrong. He wasn’t the guy who you’d cross the street to avoid. He was the guy who would throw down to protect you. He was an artist, who was thoughtful enough to hand draw me a Christmas card.
Of course he wasn’t always that way. As we got to know each other I learned about his dark past. The violence. The substance abuse. The pain.
But I also learned how Jesus had changed him. I learned just how much God could redeem us. What I saw was a new man, who was so intensely bathed in his relationship with God that it was hard to look at him, because it reminded me of just how far I have to go.
As the teacher you think you’re supposed to have all the answers. That you’re supposed to have everything “under control.” But God has a way of shattering those illusions.
I will be forever grateful to Bertie for shattering my illusions. In every way that counted he was the teacher and I was the student.
You will be missed Bertie. You, in the few short weeks I knew you, were as much of a friend to me as anyone I’ve known. But you are with Jesus now. I know because I’ve seen Jesus through you. And one day, we will be together again. And maybe that time, we’ll have the chance to become better friends.