My brother Michael was 16 months older than me. We played football together for a very short time in high school when he was a junior and I was a freshman. He outweighed me then by about 80 pounds and was an All-Conference offensive and defensive tackle.
Mike was one of those guys that was just naturally strong. When he started weight training for football, he was ahead of most guys on the team in terms of how much he could lift. He was tough and there was no quit in him. He played with broken fingers, a sprained knee or ankle, and a bloody nose. He was determined not to come out of the game and played both sides of the ball. His strength and toughness earned him the nickname “The Bear.”
I always felt safe when Mike was around. I remember a time we were walking home from a local football game and he stood up to an unruly bunch of guys that were taunting us. He didn’t lay a finger on any of them. He just stared them down and they walked away. Then there was the time when I was injured in football practice and the coach told me to carry the medical box from the bus to the locker room. Mike took the box from me and practically carried me to the locker room.
When Mike was in college he drove a group of students every week to conduct a Bible study time for a group of young children in a small rural town in South Carolina. I went with him a few times and enjoyed seeing the little kids crawl all over him. They loved climbing up on “Mike the Mountain’, and he amazed them with his impromptu “magic tricks”. One Saturday he came back to campus and told me there was a girl who had joined his group as a leader that I needed to meet. Her name has been Cheri Berry for the past 30 years.
Last week, as I attended his funeral, I heard stories from his employees about how he would go out of his way to help them whenever they needed help. He was always willing to help my parents and sisters when they needed something done around the house. Even until the very end, he was determined to get his payroll reports finished, because he wanted to make sure his employees were paid.
The apostle James tell us, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Over the past ten months, Mike endured a difficult trial. But his faith in Jesus Christ never faltered. He remained steadfast in his trust in the love and sovereignty of God. James continues, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Michael stood the test and I believe he will receive his crown.
While we mourn our loss, we find comfort in our knowledge that Michael is with his Savior. For those of us who knew him, and who trust in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we will see him again. To his wife, Susan, and the rest of our family, perhaps one day the Bear will show us his crown.
Rest in peace my brother Michael, aka, “The Bear”. (September 2, 1958 – June 10, 2014)