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Category Archives: Fate and Faith

Krystal introduced me to substitute teaching at KIPP Middle School in November of 2006. She suggested that I drop by and observe her father who also subbed occasionally, prior to stepping in. A week before I was due to teach I visited the campus and nervously walked up to the second floor of their classroom building, intrigued by the inspirational banners adorning the walls and the uniforms adorning the students. This wasn’t the hostile public middle school jungle of my own childhood. I spied through the porthole in the door of the 7th grade math class I came to visit, took a breath and stepped in. Behind the desk stood a lean, black gentleman, so I walked in to greet him while the kids worked in their groups. He was cordial, though obviously distracted, and offered me his seat while he walked to the front of the class to resume his lesson. This was the first time I met Danny Carter.
Being a fellow Lakewood member, I was bound to see Mr. Carter again. Last year Krystal invited me to hear her parents teach a Lakewood “Compass” class, a Bible study between services every weekend. I sat with her in the back row of a small classroom and spent the next half hour or so in shock at the grace with which Mr. Carter taught from Scripture, the love with which he addressed his wife, and the directness with which he conversed with his God. The last, more than anything else, stands out to me about that day. While speaking he would pause between sentences, smile, and softly direct a “Thank you” to his Lord as he found a new thought or passage to share. He stood with a room full of believers, but in those moments he was alone with his God. 
I was invited to a birthday party for Mr. Carter in May last year. It was this gathering that clarified a truth about the man: he was the quintessential host. Family and friends from all over gathered in his home, people he’d affected through his various ministries at church, at prisons, at schools. We huddled around, feasting on barbecue and playing party games, but the climax arrived when Danny took a moment to quiet the group and address everyone personally, standing in the living room next to Mrs. Carter. He expressed his gratitude and explained that he didn’t want anyone to visit his home carrying a burden of any form, only to leave unchanged. He warmly prayed with us and welcomed his Savior into the room. Mr. Carter was a host who, despite attending a party thrown in his honor, would place the spotlight on his Lord and on his guests. 
Earlier this year I was walking the halls at church carrying my guitar and I bumped into Danny just as he dismissed a men’s gathering he was conducting. Noticing my guitar, he excitedly interrogated me on my availability to play with him during one of his ministry visits to local prisons. He proceeded to sing a few songs, asking me if I knew how to play any of them. I had heard of his trips to correctional facilities around town, and I’d looked forward to accompanying him eventually. I was thrilled that I could finally join him and perhaps serve a better function than just observing. We exchanged phone numbers and I promised to contact him when I had a free weekend and had rehearsed a few of the songs he sang for me. 
Krystal called me the night Danny was taken to the hospital. 
I felt helpless when I met her later that evening and prayed with her. Danny had suffered from weakness and labored breathing for a few days, and it was with hope and faith that the Carter family made their first visits to the doctor. The diagnosis knocked the wind out of everyone who knew him. But I cursed, shoved my phone aside and sat on the floor the moment I learned that Danny Carter had finally passed away, just a few months later. I felt stupid and faithless, unable to console or even comment, since even speaking about Mr. Carter in the past tense seemed offensive and disgusting. It wasn’t until a few days later that the loss began to register and the tears began to flow. It’s been a month now since he passed. I’m humbled by the visible strength of the Carter family. I don’t know how anyone makes it through a personal loss of such magnitude. 
There was something untouchable about Danny, this man of dignity and love and humor. He was childlike when he laughed: his mouth would shrink into a tight smile, his eyes grow big, and he would bend at the knee and bounce, as though he were catching the weight of his own humor. His face was inquisitive when he listened to you, and he would look away thoughtfully, brows furrowed while he formed his responses. When Mr. Carter walked to the front of the room that first day I visited KIPP, he didn’t have to raise his voice. He didn’t even have to look up from the small index card he was holding before the students respectfully quieted down to pay attention. He spoke with a thoughtful confidence, delivering wisdom (in a math lesson, no less) with his unique Trojan horse technique: he would pose questions while creating opportunities to share personal stories, historical illustrations and Biblical allusions. The kids, like me, didn’t know what hit them. His subversive insertion of the Gospel into every conversation and lesson contributed to this untouchable quality, this remoteness that was apparent when you caught him poring through his worn Bible in his free moments. We never fully had him. He was bound to his Savior, held hostage by Love, desperately seizing every moment to uncover his captor. If he was the hostage we were the ransom, won over to his captor by his life and his message. Like for all people you esteem highly, his passing was too soon, but it’s almost impossible to deny that he’s enjoying his home now, smiling and laughing and bouncing in that childlike way, his face tight with joy in the company of his Father.