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Michael Black Graduates Today

You were the golden boy we parents always want. And today is graduation day. We come dressed in black, but we also come to celebrate all that was golden in you. You grew up strong and handsome in a family that loved you well. You were like a modern-day David, full of passion and gifts that …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

You were the golden boy we parents always want. And today is graduation day. We come dressed in black, but we also come to celebrate all that was golden in you.

You grew up strong and handsome in a family that loved you well.

You were like a modern-day David, full of passion and gifts that made you a leader and made life simultaneously easy and hard.

Easy, because winning became a habit, an expectation. Life on the gridiron or rugby field was a metaphor that made sense. You prepare, you fight, you accept the injuries along the way, and you play by the rules.

Whatever the contest, the score was in your favor.

You set the standard for your friends. You were the yardstick by which they measured their lives.

Your family loved you well. Your successes prompted their cheers and they were a safe place for you to grow. Their faith inspired your own. Their passion fueled you.

Yet, life was also hard. When winning is a habit, losing is painful. Your high standards didn't make much room for failure.

And when failure came, when friends failed you and you failed yourself, it had to be confusing. Faith is one thing, but where was the modern template for resurrection? When your ship has run aground, how do you plug the leaks and sail again?

You'd seen a nation full of orphans walking the green hills of Swaziland. You'd drawn near their hearts and filled their empty bellies. But who could help you sort the tangle inside your own heart back in America?

The sun had set on Africa and you could feel it setting in your own life.

The disappointment must have been so disorienting. You must have felt the weight of it and struggled to reconcile it with the laughter and smile that others recognized you by.

Was that the war that raged in your soul as you sat on the floor, head between your knees on the last evening of your last day?

What thoughts made lilfe seem unliveable? Why were we who loved you not a help?

The questions we ask link arms with the ones you asked that seemed to have no answer.

We struggle with the claustrophobia of it all as you must have. And there, in that airless place, we feel your exhaustion and despair.

Yet, it is your life that speaks louder than your passing. Your life speaks to us of all the ways in which winning can become a wonderful habit that brings celebration and joy. Where laughter and friendship are the norm.

Where God smiles and anoints.

It was a brief moment on this planet, but it was a brilliant one, one that still generates gratitude with the grief.

All of us sit on a knife's edge of mortality. We all need to learn well the lessons that your life still teaches.

And for that we say thank you. And we give thanks to God for a life as beautiful as a Swazi sunset.

Rest in peace.

Comments (21)

  • Brilliant and amazing, thank you my friend… you were a huge part of Michael’s life, he loved you deeply!

  • Made me cry- and that’s good, because this is a loss to planet earth worth tears. Heaven’s gain, but for the rest left behind, a loss. Have a close missionary friend who has struggled with depression for the last 20 years and recently tried to take her life. Today, my dad in his pain (physical and emotional) was asking God to take him. As Scott Peck so famously said, “Life is difficult.” Can never make sense of it all, but my heart and soul rests, for it knows that He has come to bear our griefs, and that is the comfort and strength that sustains and keeps me present in the midst of the pain in and around me. May that same comfort and strength be yours Seth, and of course, I pray that for the Black family. Thank God He is our Paraclete.

  • Thanks, Melinda.

    I’m headed to Kenya now – the land where Michael’s grandpa got started in missions.

  • Thank-you Seth. You’ve put into words the places a lot of us live and die every day. Praying to the Prince of Peace who goes into places none of us can understand – that He will bring Peace to the Black Tribe.

    Safe travels.

  • Wow Seth, this is amazing. So beautifully put. Hearts are heavy here in Swaziland for the Black family.

  • A line in a song by Reliant K comes to mind.

    “Today I will trust you with the confidence of a man who’s never known defeat.”

    Even in this, the devil is defeated and Jesus is victorious! God be glorified today.

  • Thank you for writing.

    You wrote with honor, honesty, and vulnerability.

    Praying for you, the Black family, and close friends and family.

  • This is amazing, Seth. I’m really thankful for the way you’ve been vulnerable with your words and how these posts have captured and clarified these moments. Thank you for honoring Michael and those who loved him so well.

  • When I was young, one of the men in my church passed away in the same manner as Michael. I remember the words my dad said to his wife, and your words remind me very much of what dad said. And I always thought how comforting it is to know that no matter how we pass, Jesus is waiting for us and loves us so dearly. The door we pass through doesn’t matter when He’s the destination, waiting with open arms.

    I never knew Michael, but what a beautiful life he left behind for people like me to see… People who never met him, but can stand in awe of the way he loved and the things he did. Thank you for sharing this.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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