Andy was in junior high school, I was in seminary. We became friends. God used Andy to show me what it means to live life with enthusiasm.
Andy and I first met somewhere around 1991.
I was the youth pastor of Maplewood Baptist Church, in Malden MA.
Andy was a junior high student. Full of energy, a little irreverent, a master at pushing your buttons. Exactly the kind of kid I loved spending time with.
My earliest memories of Andy were the times I drove him home from youth meetings early. Youth group lasted for two hours. He was always welcome to attend and participate fully. When he became disruptive, I would drive him the few blocks home.
That may sound harsh, but Andy had a way of undoing a room in mere moments. His energy was mesmerizing, and once he was losing control, there was no getting him back.
Some of my favorite times each week were the moments we spent driving to his house. He educated me on what was most important in his world. To this day, I cannot see a commercial for professional wrestling without thinking about Andy.
As I dropped him off at home, his mom and I would talk. I assured Andy he was welcome back next Friday. We always parted friends.
I remember the Friday night when Andy made it to the end of youth group for the first time. I called him up front and congratulated him. Everyone cheered. Andy stood there in his classic Andy way, “so this is what the end of youth group looks like.”
Years later, Andy served as chef for one of our retreats. While our leadership team was starting to plan all the meals, Andy declared that he wanted to be responsible for the cooking. Everyone around the table howled in protest. I asked if he was serious. He was. We talked about what that would mean, and Andy rose to the occasion.
Andy planned all the meals, arranged for food preparation, and oversaw every meal for the weekend. Some of the best meals I have ever enjoyed while on retreat were prepared by chef Andy.
There was a time when a few of the older high school guys would gather at my house on Saturday nights to play cards. Andy was often a part of those gatherings. Nancy was working the night shift at a nursing home. My card partners would show up just as she was leaving to start her shift. I would give them some cash, and they would run to the corner store to get snacks. We would play cards long into the night or early morning.
We had an understanding. If you played cards on Saturday night, you had to be in church Sunday morning. Sitting in the back row, there would be five or six guys struggling to stay awake. If you missed service, you were not allowed to play next Saturday.
These card games were by invite only. They took place on the down-low. Some of the best conversations ever would happen at 2 am on Sunday morning as we all fought to stay awake and continue playing.
When I graduated seminary and moved on from Maplewood Baptist Church, they threw a big lunch to celebrate our time together. People had an opportunity to share their memories.
Andy took to the mic and started to talk about late-night poker games at pastor Dan’s house. He talked about arriving as Nancy headed off to work and playing poker through the night into the early hours of Sunday morning.
Sitting up front, I watched the twitching faces of many of the white-haired adults in the room. Nervous laughter filled the space. Surely this was just Andy being Andy, making stuff up to get a reaction. There was no way pastor Dan would ever do such a thing.
Andy read their response perfectly. He was frustrated people did not believe what he was saying, so he doubled down. He shared more detail, trying to get them to accept these poker games really took place.
As I write this, there is a huge smile on my face. It is one of my fondest memories of church life.
Andy’s Great Campaign
Nancy was pregnant with our first child while we were in Malden. Andy was convinced he knew the perfect name for our child. He advocated, publicly and with great passion, that our firstborn son should be named Andrew.
He was pretty convincing. Andy conducted polls among all members of youth group. He recruited people to plead his case. In the end, Joseph Richard was named after his great-grandfather and grandfather. Andy was severely disappointed. Nancy and I had made our first big mistake as parents. Andy let me know about it, all in good fun.
When Nancy was pregnant with Rayann, we had decided that if we had another boy, his name would be Andrew Ray.
I Miss My Friend
Andy taught me a lot about life, relationships, and what it means to care well for each other.
The passion with which he lived life was contagious.
Andy passed away on August 13, 2001. He was only 23 years old.
One of the hardest things I have done during all the years of ministry was to speak at Andy’s memorial service.
We gathered in the same church which held so many great memories to mourn the loss of a dear friend. As I spoke, I could almost see him falling asleep on the back row after a late night of playing poker.
Andy’s memorial service was on August 17, 2001. A few days later, on August 20, I went away on retreat.
This retreat was not something I had planned. My soul needed time away. I needed to be still. The sense of grief and loss was overwhelming. I found the burden almost suffocating.
While on retreat, God used Andy to teach me a lesson I will never forget.
Mourning and Loss
I was wandering the retreat center grounds, praying, asking God a lot of why questions.
I came upon an outdoor worship center. There was seating, a pulpit, and right up front an altar.
As I approached the altar, something was laying on it. It was the most enormous horse fly I have ever seen. Obviously dead, the fly just lay on its back, motionless and still.
I stood there, mesmerized.
It was beautiful. The colors, paper-thin wings, the absolute perfect design, I stared at it for a long time.
Standing there looking upon that fly, it was as if the Spirit of God spoke to me.
Dan, I grieve the loss of Andy just as you are. I mourn his death just as his mother, father, sister, family, and friends are.
The death of every piece of my creation causes my heart to break. I mourn the death of this fly.
For just a moment, I felt the amazing sense of grief and loss that God must feel as the reality of death, pain suffering that is a part of this world must be overwhelming at times.
I was struggling to carry the loss of Andy. I could not imagine feeling all the suffering and loss that is a part of this world each day.
In that moment I learned to use my moments of mourning, pain and suffering to connect with the sufferings of Jesus.
It does not make the pain go away, yet it does help to know that I am not alone. The pain I feel is a shared pain, shared mourning, I do not need to carry it alone.
Transformation and Renewal
Standing there at the altar, staring at the fly, I looked up.
There was the cross.
Transformation, rebirth, resurrection, renewal, life.
The pain of loss remains. Each time I see a commercial for professional wrestling, I feel a strange longing to speak with Andy.
The pain remains, yet in the face of the struggle, there is hope.
God used Andy to teach me yet one more lesson.
I miss my friend.