Gerry Can Finally Leave Town

We’d lost touch with each other over the years.

Gerry had one of the first Beatle haircuts in town and was in “The Legends.” I was in a rival band, “The Signets.” Both were blue-eyed soul bands. The Legends once played a 2-chord instrumental for 3 hours straight on a friend’s front porch. That had to be a Guinness record – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, the longest song known to man, was only 17 minutes long and they had gone 3 hours! I think that qualifies for canonization. Gerry had one of the nicest guitars of anyone I knew, a blonde Epiphone Casino like John Lennon’s. We were friends in college, drinking beer together and wasting time in the Student Union drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. After college, my life went downhill until Jesus apprehended me. Gerry’s life took a downward turn as well, and he developed agoraphobia. He would have a panic attack every time he’d attempt to leave town. So from sometime in the 70’s, he became a prisoner of our town. He never left again.

Along the way, Gerry and I both got married, had children, and our lives took different directions. A few years later I heard that he got divorced.

Fast forward 25+ years. One day I see him from a distance in Wal-mart. The Lord prompts me to give him a call. I tell him I’d seen him and wondered if he like to get together for coffee. He’s glad to hear from me and anxious to hook up. So we meet at Starbucks a couple days later, two fifty-something guys getting reacquainted after being out of touch for far too long.

I start off by telling Gerry my favorite memory of him. It was the time a friend and I were supposed to meet him at a campus apartment, but we show up an hour late. When we come in, Gerry is sitting at the kitchen table, studying a beer bottle. He looks up at us, takes a drag on his Kool filter and says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, brewed with the finest hops and malts….” While waiting for us, he has memorized the entire label on a bottle of Bud. That snapshot pretty much captures our lives back then.

Gerry tells me he has cancer. I wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but he tells me that 2 years ago the doctors gave him 2 years after discovering a large tumor in his intestines. He tells me he’s been reading the Bible for a year, which leads to talking about Jesus and his death as a substitute for us. God does something significant that day in our lives. We reestablish our friendship.

For the next year, Gerry and I get together regularly. He comes to our church and some other former friends renew their relationship with him. He meets new friends. Frank becomes a faithful bible study partner, as do Dennis and Tim. Each week they call Gerry and talk about a bible passage. Every Sunday Gerry comes to our church and stands in the back listening to me preach – he’s pretty sick – often in so much pain he can’t sit, but he usually makes it through the message before he has to go home and back to bed.

We go out to lunch once a week – I get the salad bar and load up my plate, but all he can eat is a few fries with gravy. He often treats me. Week after week, we talk of Jesus, as Gerry grows more thin and frail. He tells me that he and Frank are reading 1 John and that Jesus has convicted him that he needs to love people. He tells me that for years he has hated many people but now he has decided to forgive everyone who has ever wronged him. He wants to devote his life to Jesus, doing all he can to please him for the rest of his days. He wants to do as much good to as many people as he can.

In these days of suffering, God gives Gerry a gift – painting pictures. He paints every day. Landscapes, boats and Mediterranean seaport scenes. And he gives his paintings away. One hangs in my office.

Fast forward to this past Wednesday evening. I call and his dad answers. “How is your son?” I ask. “We’re in a death watch. Come over and see Gerry.” I get there and see him, lying in the special bed they’d set up for him in the family room. Gerry’s eyes are open, his breathing is shallow, a “death rattle”. I don’t know if he can hear me, but I hold his hand and tell him Jesus loves him, and thank him for being such a good friend. I tell him that nothing can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and pray for him.

Gerry’s dad and mom are there, grieving, watching their son’s last moments. Then his mom says, “Gerry can finally leave town now.” His agoraphobia is over. He’s leaving town – for heaven. For a face to face appointment with his Savior. I tell Gerry goodbye. “I love you, Gerry. See you soon.”

Gerry left town yesterday at 1 in the morning. I can’t wait to see him again.

Comments

  1. Jeri says

    Words fail. What a kind God we
    serve. ..thanks for telling about what He did for Gerry.

    We will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever!

  2. Mark Altrogge says

    Hey Paul, Amen, Praise God for his grace – I was so blessed get to witness the transforming power of Jesus Christ in Gerry’s life with my own eyes.

    Hi Jeri, yes, I’m overwhelmed today at God’s kindness and mercy.

    Thank you for praying, David. I appreciate it.

  3. Anonymous says

    Mark,

    Thanks for posting this. i so appreciate your wilingness to follow the Lord in whatever he calls you to. Thanks for being a good friend to Gerry and thanks for your humility. I’m challenged by your godly example to reach out to my old drinking friends. Thanks!

    In Grace,
    jonathan oldacre

  4. Mark Altrogge says

    Thanks Jonathan,

    I wish I could say I were equally consistent with all my old friends – I want to be. Thanks for your encouragement. I pray the Lord will open doors for you with your friends.

  5. Anonymous says

    Mark,
    Thanks for trusting God in calling Jerry. That simple act of obedience was used by God to bring grace to your old friend. Your example of humbly following God magnifies God’s grace.
    How kind of God to save Gerry and then let him see more of his grace through my second favorite church, through Frank and through Tim…
    How kind of God,
    tjk

  6. Mark Altrogge says

    Hi Tom,

    God’s grace is certainly written all over Gerry’s story. And God was so good to me to let me witness his grace unfold before my eyes. Guys like Frank and Tim and Dennis – I forgot to mention him – what wonderful means of grace they were to Gerry.

  7. Beth says

    i will miss seeing him at church.
    and his brown sweatshirt.
    and the way he talked about God with such
    sobering sincerity.
    thank you for writing this dad.
    i am happy he is with Jesus.
    and not hurting.
    and praying for his family.

  8. Mark Altrogge says

    Hi Bethi,

    I’ll miss him too. Yeah – his brown sweat shirt and his sincerity. He’s with Jesus – what joy he’s experiencing. Thanks, Bethi.

  9. Lisa Nunley says

    This is one of those stories where my words fail me, but my heart sings praises to our faithful God.

    Thank you for being transparent for the glory of the Gospel.

  10. Mark Altrogge says

    Lisa,

    Thank you for your comment. I am grateful to the Lord that he let me witness his grace in Gerry’s life.

  11. Kathie says

    Dear Mark,
    Thank God and you for being with Gerry. I remember many years ago when we were all together. Great memories fill me with a wonderful sense of friendship and love. Though those years are long past, they still serve me in times of stress and difficulty with a smile and a warm sense of love. Oh what a time.
    I also remember time when Gerry stood in the back of the Church. Always there, standing until the end of Mass. I am so pleased that Gerry stood in the back of your church listening to the word of God. It comforts me to know that he had you. And through you, God. May God bring him home and allow Gerry to stand in the back of His Church. God Blees You.

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