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A different kind of graduation…

When I first met Morrie, he was a loud-mouthed, foul talking, irresponsible braggart. We were 13 years old and he and I went to school together. He always talked dirty about girls. Of course, at 13 we didn’t know anything about girls, but Morrie said he was experienced. At times he would say things out loud and was cruel with his comments toward them. We all would kind of stand far away from him when he did this… I was embarrassed.

We went on school field trips and Morrie would always brag about how he could beat up any kid and was mean to the weaker boys in our class. As time went by Morrie was involved in a lot of mischief at school. He was caught stealing things or sneaking out of school when he was supposed to be in class. I stopped hanging out with him; as did other guys I knew. When we were in High School, Morrie became more sullen and angry.

When the day of graduation came, Morrie gave the peace sign as he walked across the stage and right before he lowered his hands, he quickly changed it to flip off the crowd to a few giggles. Afterward, while families took pictures of their kids, I saw Morrie walking away, pulling off his cap and gown, wadding them up and throwing them in the back of his car. He started the ignition and drove away…and that was the last I saw of him.

Over the years that passed, the memories I had of Morrie were the ones I had from 14-18 years of age. As we all do, I made a lot of judgments about him and resented some of the things he did to me and had said to me. Whenever I would run into classmates and his name was mentioned, none of them would make any comments except to roll their eyes and say, “He was trouble”… I did too.

After 20 years I went to my first, class reunion. I had lived too far away to come to the first 2 but at 20 years I finally went. As I arrived; I was so happy to see so many of my old friends. We caught up about what each of us was doing and I was a little shy about talking to people. I had been pretty outgoing in High School, but I hadn’t been the nicest guy either. I spent a lot of time mentioning to people that if I had treated them in a bad way that I was sorry. They were all very gracious to me. I was grateful.

I was tapped on the shoulder by a guy in a nice sport coat and jeans. I turned and said hello. I didn’t recognize him. He smiled and said, “It’s me, Morrie!” I’m ashamed to say this but I’m sure he could see my face register dread. I tried my best to smile and make small talk. Morrie smiled again and said, “It’s okay pal, I know I didn’t leave people with a very good impression during my school years.” He told me he had been convicted of a few petty crimes and had spent some time in jail. He said it was the most horrendous experience he had ever had.

I listened as he told me of being beaten by a group of men who thought he was a loud-mouth and showed him he wasn’t so tough. He said he had to pay $10 a month to a jail hitman to keep him from breaking his arm or leg. When he got out of jail, he said he had to live in his mother’s house until he found a job as a plumber’s assistant. He said during his time in jail and on days he was standing knee-deep in sewage helping the plumber, he would remember his misspent time in school. How he wished he had done differently but realized his circumstances were due to his poor choices.

As time went by, he became certified as a plumber and then a master plumber. He moved to Iowa and began his own business. He met and married a wonderful woman and became a Christian. When he had heard about the class reunion he decided to come back and ask forgiveness from the people he had wronged. He spent the entire evening going from group to group, person to person, re-introducing himself and asking forgiveness for his poor decisions from school.

One by one, just like me, Morrie won back some respect and as I saw him walk toward his car and drive away…but this time, there was a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. As soon as he left, the chatter was low but it was all about Morrie. Some said, “I don’t believe it…I think he was lying”. Others said, “Wow, what a difference! He is truly a changed man.” But I could tell…just looking in Morrie’s eyes, this was a man who had seen the depths of his own soul and met Jesus there.

He was quiet when he spoke, not bragging as in the past and he took care to not exaggerate any of the details. He corrected himself if he felt he had misspoken about something in his story. As he had turned to leave me that night, he had said, “I should have been a better person and a better friend, and I hope you will forgive me.” I had embraced him and given him a hug. He had a tear in his eye and thanked me for my forgiveness. Morrie didn’t make it to the next reunions, and I haven’t heard from him since.

I had held Morrie in jail for 20 years before I saw him at that reunion. Lots of things had changed in his life, and I feel bad that I looked crestfallen when I first saw him that night. But it made me realize how many people we hold in prison in our memories. People can change. People can become completely different over time and even though it’s natural to recall someone’s bad behavior in the past, realizing that God is active all over the world, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Morrie’s of our lives show up transformed.

That’s Jesus for you. With everyone he meets, he changes them…the man lying by the pool of Siloam, the woman with the issue of blood, the thief on the cross…and me. If you have done things in your past like me and Morrie and live your life in prison with regret, there is someone waiting in your prison cell who is with you…wanting to change you. That night, on my way home, I couldn’t seem to remember anything that Morrie had done badly in school anymore…it was like God made it all disappear. Somewhere along the way, Morrie had gone through another graduation, but his time, his cap and gown were intact, and God was taking pictures…

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