The past few days, I’ve been thinking about restoration, what it means for someone to return to a functional life after deep brokenness, how that comes about, and what it means for the Kingdom. This turned my thoughts to my friend Lanny, who passed away a decade ago.
The last few months of Lanny’s life, he spent at his parents home in the Southeastern U.S. When he died, his sister contacted various friends of his in California to ask us to contribute our remembrances of Lanny for his memorial service. His whole family knew some important things had happened in Lanny’s life out here, but they wanted to hear it from those who knew it firsthand. This is what I wrote, to share in honor of my friend. I have added a few other details to complete the portrait, and to suggest what Lanny’s life could mean for us in understanding the real restorative and healing power in a gathering of disciples.
I met Lanny in January of 1990 at a mutual friend’s apartment in Manhattan. He was quite a character – kind, quirky …naive about some things and yet world-wise and weary on others. I remember he had several self-etched tattoos on his hands and neck, including one of a cross he’d injected onto a prominent section of his neck. He talked about the story of that one especially. To him, it was a literal marker of returning to the faith in Jesus Christ that he had known as a child. More recently, Lanny had come out of a difficult background that included living on the streets in New York City, drug addiction, and working as a male prostitute. That was likely when he’d contracted HIV, and in 1990, he was just beginning to experience the advance of symptoms from this disease.
Our first meeting was somewhere in the very early stages of Lanny’s journey to address root issues underlying his difficulties and addictions. But I really got to know Lanny better starting in 1992 when he moved across country to participate in a year-long, recovery-oriented residential program and we attended the same church. As with any relationship, there were highs and lows. I remember one of the low points, after Lanny decided to radically abandon his walk with Christ (thankfully, that lasted for only a few months). We happened to end up sitting near each other on a local bus, and could only manage small talk for a few minutes. With the spiritual dimension of our friendship not in sync right then, there wasn’t much to discuss except the weather, the 49ers, and a few other superficialities. Lanny ended our uncomfortable conversation by zipping on his Walkman and zoning out to some tunes.
But that isn’t the essence of Lanny that I want to distill for you today. It just shows the down side. Much of the remainder of his time in California was on the up side. But first he had to come to end of himself. Here’s what happened. A while after our bus incident, Lanny completely disappeared for a few months and NO ONE heard from him. Friends from his old church were worried, and with good reason. Turns out that he’d plunged into one of the most vile subcultures of San Francisco for a while, where leech-people who know how to take advantage of others saw someone ripe for use – and they abused Lanny to the max.
Finally Lanny came to his senses and re-emerged, despite fear that the church he’d gone to would reject him. They didn’t. They welcomed him back. I don’t know that I’ve ever, ever seen someone so emotionally broken and spiritually spent as Lanny was. Yet, a whole household of Christian guys from that church took him in, and sacrificially loved him back to life. Steve, Bob, and the others helped Lanny through their acceptance and with their boundaries. They weren’t out to rescue him, but to help him reconstruct a life on following Jesus Christ. They didn’t impose legalistic rules, but helped Lanny restructure his use of time and renew key spiritual disciplines. To give Lanny an opportunity to break his patterns of isolation, they re-engage him in activities that would connect him with people who saw beyond his guilt and self-loathing.
I watched as month by month, this crushed and hurting brother began to mend through the genuine love, perseverance, and care of his Christian brothers. From them all, I learned the astounding lesson that a Christian community is truly only as strong as its commitment of unconditional love to its most fragile members; though broken, these individuals serve as the barometers, measuring the atmosphere of love in a church’s environment, or the pressure toward change that is needed.
Anyway, gradually, I began to see a renewed Lanny that was more robust in spirit than in his health, which was continuing to decline, due to the effects of AIDS. His zest for life returned, and he always wanted to make appointments to do things with people. He and we and they went to movies, art displays, parties, trips out for coffee, tennis – all kinds of things. Life!
The one event I remember most fondly is when Lanny and I went to see an exhibit on Anne Frank and the Holocaust … at his request. But this was no morbid experience, even though the subject matter was our inhumane treatment of one other, and genocide! Lanny and I talked as we walked along the exhibit corridors. He was so full of questions and observations and comments about this painting or that poster. And he stopped to chat with people here and there throughout the exhibit rooms.
Afterwards, as we sat nibbling almond cookies and sipping lattes, it seemed I was in the presence of a man so transformed from Satan’s attempts at annihilating him, that I could see Jesus shine through everything he said and did. Amazing to think of how far Lanny had returned in those slow-going months of spiritual defrosting and holistic healing. He was a walking miracle of restoration, and the other men of his household were a testimony to Christ’s care for the brokenhearted.
Lanny died within a year, his body decimated by AIDS but his spiritual life restored. Vibrant, smiling widely, engaged in life. Grateful for the smallest of kindnesses. Always sending little thank-you notes that expressed his joy in time spent with a friend. Occasional phone calls just to say hello and see how I was doing. A more gentle and humble man, I’m not likely to meet until we are reunited in heaven. And those snapshots of life form the collage of “LanMan” that I cherish. The fruit of restoration … life!
This series was cross-posted on my futuristguy blog at Missional Tribe.