I wanted to share this story about my friend Ron. I released a song about him called Shine Out (Ron's Song), but I felt like I needed to tell a little bit more about what made him who he was.
Ron asked me to tell this story. It’s a lot of responsibility to tell someone else’s story. Especially someone with a story as complicated as Ron’s. This song is my best attempt at it, but it would take many, many songs to capture all the sides of who Ron was in all the different chapters of his life. At its best, this song tries to capture the chain of events that led to Ron inviting Jesus into his heart. I met Ron long after all of the events in the song. But one thing was infinitely clear to me. Ron’s story makes no sense without Jesus.
His family members who trafficked him all through his childhood starting at the age of 3, his multiple suicide attempts before the age of 12, his decades of addiction and self harm, his 20 years living with AIDS and a number of other conditions that caused him constant, chronic pain; any one of these things, and certainly all of them together should have produced a bitter, twisted, hateful shell of a person. And while there were parts of Ron that he would often admit were hopelessly broken, he was also one of the kindest, most generous, thoughtful, loving and compassionate people I’ve ever met. He would give anyone the shirt off his back without waiting for them to ask.
Like his Lord he was a carpenter, and once you knew Ron, he was the one you would call anytime anything went wrong in your house. Sump pump, disposal, drain, light bulb. Didn’t matter what it was or what time it was, he’d come over and smoke 5 cigarettes looking at it, swear softly and say “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” He would then drive to get the strongest, darkest cup of coffee on earth, and come back and set things right.
After Ron passed away from cancer last December, at his memorial service there were people who had known him for 30 years, and people who just met him 3 months ago. The themes of what everyone had to say about Ron were the same. The common thread that wound through all the stories, the qualities of character they described couldn’t help but remind us all of someone else. He who had held Ron’s hand through the complete and utter nightmare that so much of his life had been. He who, one night at Ron’s lowest possible moment, dangling between life and death in an overdose, had taken Ron by storm and captured his heart forever. And He, who was the first to welcome him into his arms when Ron walked into his kingdom, and wiped every tear from his face.
Almost all of the time that I knew Ron while he was alive, I didn’t know Jesus. But I knew there was something different about Ron. I felt it in him. His presence. His way of being in the world. In 5 years of friendship, and months spent working on house projects daily together, he never once preached to me. He didn't need to, Jesus shone right out of his life. Don’t get me wrong, Ron was not perfect. He could get mightily pissed fairly often, and be a flat out dick for no reason, and he knew how to use all the words that aren’t in the dictionary, and did so with relish. But Ron was saved and he knew it. And he was forgiven all his sins, and he knew it. And he had a love that Jesus put into his heart, that no force of evil could ever touch, and he knew it.
Because Ron had accepted in his heart that when Jesus died a criminal's death, as an innocent man, who lived a perfect life, he did it for Ron personally. Not because he deserved it. He didn’t (none of us do). But because he was loved that much. Ron put Jesus at the center of his life. He submitted his whole life and will to Jesus, and it melted his heart. It made him live with love and gratitude and a deep peace that passes all understanding. That's what we were all trying to put our fingers on telling stories at his memorial. That is what the living power of Jesus looks like in an actual life. He turns a heart (any heart) from stone to flesh through knowing the perfect love of what he did on the cross.
Whenever I need to remember what a Christian is I think about Ron. Ron’s favorite line for anybody who wanted to know Jesus was to “read the Book of John until it hits your heart.” The month before Ron passed away November of 2020 was when Jesus came into my heart. I got to tell Ron about it in hospice. I gave him a little cross that said “Be still and know’’, but it was a little bit awkward because he didn’t know what to do with it. He wasn’t really trying to acquire any new possessions at that point. It eventually found a home on Brian’s mantle (his best friend and partner of many years) in the living room where he passed away. I got to share a rough draft of this song with him before he passed. This won’t be the last song about Ron, but this one took me well over a year to get a recording I could live with. He put this on my head to do before he died. I hope I didn’t mess it up too much. I love you Ron. Thank you, Jesus, for showing me and so many others who you are through this man.
Love and thanks,
If there is someone you know who needs to hear Ron's story, please feel free to share it however you'd like.
Here's where you can listen to Shine Out (Ron's Song):