(The picture is of Andy, Sydney and tiny Phoenix back in the spring. Andy's willingness put him in a position to make a positive difference for a lot of people -- like me. He always read my stuff and would quote something to me if he liked it. I told him I'd write about him one day. I'd rather it not have been this. I have other Andy stories to share with you, and will when the time is right. We are grateful that they all end good. This ran in The Times and The News-Star Sunday.)
Four years ago, Andy's life was a confusing cross between a Dumpster fire and a train wreck.
Even family had to throw up a fence of self-protection.
Andy was done and done-er. Sure seemed that way. Not enough power to keep him out of the pig pen, and not enough hope to keep him from caring too awfully much one way or the other.
How can you help a guy unwilling to help himself?
Hearts were broken. Because this was Andy. Lovable Andy. He was born funny and carefree and matured in both with age. He produced smiles like an oak makes acorns. Good ol' Andy.
When he was a toddler he loved playing under the dining room table.
Once he asked the rather stout housekeeper to get under there with him and play.
"But I'm too big," she told her tiny friend. And little Andy said, "Well, just get as much as you CAN get under here!"
First-grader or senior, they all knew Andy at school. He hated class but loved school because he loved the attention and the friendships.
The people. At graduation he got the biggest cheer, not because he passed with the highest grade-point average, but instead because he passed at all. He failed as a teacher's rehab project, but he passed as a kind-hearted student no teacher could help but love.
But it didn't take long for drugs and drink to make a good-sized dent in the Andy that now had to face a real world. There came a time when he couldn't get under the table any more, not to play, and not to hide.
Then something happened. Everyone had had enough of Andy until finally, even Andy had had enough of Andy. Some friends were there to meet him at the dead end. They knew a better road. He followed.
That was the beginning of a miracle, a radical love that comes upon a guy and changes things. Not only did Andy quit doing the things that were killing him and hurting everyone who cared about him, but he started doing things to help a world as fallen as he'd been.
In theological circles, it's called redemption. On the streets, it's called "That's Andy — but it ain't the same Andy. Thank God."
The days he'd hated, he now embraced. He was among the first people to introduce himself when I moved to Ruston, and a guy more jolly you'd be hard-pressed to find. He thought ahead now. Put himself in the back seat. Was accountable to friends all over town. He knew how to use a cell phone, I can tell you that.
In late spring he used a text message to announce to who knows how many people the birth of his son Phoenix, little brother to big sis Sydney. That name's a little "out there," I thought. But I was wrong.
Phoenix is a perfect name for a boy whose father, like the ancient bird, rose from the ashes, found his life saved, and passed life along.
So little makes sense in this fallen world. I thought that especially true Tuesday as I looked over a diverse and overflow crowd at his funeral. Just 29 years old. A viral infection. The doctors don't even really know yet what it was, but Andy battled it for weeks.
It rained the whole month Andy was in ICU. But as his life was once he started over, it was sunny Tuesday, beautiful and clear and clean.