I know I am taking some liberty.
It’s not that I am trying to re-write the God-breathed love letter given to us humans that points us back to glory. I know what the narrative really says. There came a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The man I speak of was named John, too, but I knew him as Jack.
Jack Casey wasn’t some desert-dweller, some camel-haired coat wearer.
I never saw him in anything less casual than pressed khakis and a cardigan sweater. When I knew him at church he wore a suit and tie.
He wasn’t some grub-eating preacher living on the fringes of society. Jack ate regular food as far as I could tell and he lived in a split-level home in a neighborhood, that I thought was, in comparison to where I was living at the time, reserved for people with money. Middle class was not on my radar.
There was nothing fire and brimstone about Jack.
The only time I heard him raise his voice was when he was laughing. And laugh Jack did. You see, he was an Irishman and an Irishman is known for a few things; two being his laughter and his tears. Jack was rich in both.
I was a shattered kid when I met Jack.
A gangly, snaggle-toothed teenager, hollowed out by the abandonment of my own father and living among soul-broken ruins, I met Jack at a place called Faith Fellowship.
Somehow the spirit of God had taken up residence in the Blackstone Valley where I lived and a bunch of people got caught up in the windstorm. I had no idea about any of it, except that my mother was also one of those people and I was along for the ride. I didn’t know at the time that I was about to collide with the Jack Casey fortress of love.
Jack was not put off by my brokenness.
Instead, he embraced it.
I could not walk past the man without him offering to hug me. I could not dodge His words of kindness and affirmation. I could not escape his welcome. At church, if I tried to exit out another door, Jack would do the side-step shuffle until he managed to reach out and tug on my sleeve; “How are you doing, today?” Then, with gentleness I couldn’t resist there would be a Jack Casey embrace and God- words from his mouth spoken directly to my heart. I could feel a piece of me being put back into place, Holy Ghost mortar securing it forever.
I never asked him, but I did wonder.
Does he not see the ash heap of my heart?
Does he not see the unworthiness I wear?
Not like a coat of many colors, but the tight wrap of graying and decaying grave clothes?
Who is this man who loves so easily?
Who does not abandon, but welcomes.
Who follows the broken one out the door.
In some ways, Jack was like the desert-dweller; the other John.
He prayed. All the time.
It was like he was compelled to talk to God about everything. Perhaps is was because he really believed God is always present and he wanted to pray for you so you could know it, too.
I wasn’t the only one he would follow out the door. I wasn’t the only one for whom he would do the side-step shuffle. There were other sleeves he was tugging on.
Getting caught up in a Jack Casey embrace meant you were about to get prayed for and blessed. He’d always begin his prayer with “Lawd…” dropping the ‘r’ in Lord, as he invited Jesus into the situation. Like the desert-dweller John, Jack was always pointing to the One whose sandals he would never bring himself to untie.
See…there He is. He’s the one. The one who can heal you. The one who will never leave you.
And like the desert-dweller, Jack was relentless.
He took my eldest son from my arms every Sunday to pray for his healing from a liver disease that threatened to kill him before his second birthday. Jack, haven’t we prayed enough? Never, he would say. Give me that boy.
Two years of Jack saying give me that boy and then… one day that boy’s belly shrunk to normal size and the doctors had no answers for the miracle they were witnessing. That boy lives as a husband and father of two, banging on the drums his own rhythm worship that resonates the faithfulness of God with every percussive beat.
Jack imparted blessing to each of my children after that. Even after I moved to Maine, whenever I visited the Blackstone Valley with a new baby, Jack always seemed to be there to pray, to say give me that baby; his eyes swimming in tears and his voice garbling like fresh water over river rocks the blessings of God.
Years later on a cold day in March shortly after my fifth child was born, I got a call from Lois, Jack’s wife. They were in Maine and wondered if they could drop by. Of course.
Later that day in the living room where my baby lay, Jack knelt, his eyes brimmed once again and his voice caught on the blessing he imparted to a little girl named Mary Grace.
It certainly was a grace to know Jack Casey.
A grace-gift not deserved, but given anyway to a broken girl who had lost her way.
Jack may not have screamed the word ‘repent’ from the rocks and caves like the desert-dweller, yet, his unbroken resolve to love others no matter what helped make this girl turn and go a better way.
There came a man sent from God comma.
This little comma sums up all of Jack’s life. It’s where he lived out his journey with Jesus. This tiny mark encompasses the story of his compassion and relentless pursuit of God’s love for himself and for others. It is in the comma where Jack, throughout his life, pointed to Jesus. See…there He is.
Jack’s days of pointing to Jesus came to an end on a Saturday.
Today he is seeing Jesus face to face.
Today he is the one being embraced.
There came a man sent from God, whose name was Jack.
For this I am grateful.
So, Jack, here are my words, quoted from the crazy Irishman in the story, Braveheart:
“I will see you later.”
(The Burren, Ireland 2008- my collection)