I would see him with his family, and it was so obvious that his nieces and nephew adored him. Sure seemed like they had good reason-- he looked like so much fun! (Wait a minute, I thought he was super quiet and shy?)
So for months I would get these little glimpses of Daniel. Passing glances and snapshot images that seemed to capture so much. And again and again, I'd let the thoughts pass and be tucked away in the back of my mind.
In the fall of 2013, I was randomly asked to be the campus coach for First Priority, a student-led Christian club at Grissom High School. Each Wednesday morning I would find myself in the halls of the high school, hanging out with some students in the art room. Once a month, the students would bring in a guest speaker for "Overcome" week, and often they would ask me for suggestions. Allison was a part of the group, and one day her Uncle Daniel came to mind. I didn't know a lot about him, but I knew he had a powerful redemption story and I wondered if Allison thought he might be a good speaker. She thought it would be perfect, so we lined up a week for him to come share his story with the club.
(This picture is from an event for His Way that Daniel spoke at in the spring of 2013. I wasn't there. I stole it from Facebook.)
The morning he came and spoke at First Priority was the first time I really got to see Daniel. I had gone to coffee with Allison before he came to speak, and she told me a lot of the details of his story that I didn't know, but hearing him share what GOD had done in his life was incredible.
He talked about who he was in high school-- at Grissom, the very place these students were. An all-star football and basketball player: on his way to big things, and feeling good about it. It was his identity.
And then one day he lost it all.
An injury took him out of the game and everything that, in his eyes, defined him, was gone.
He talked about the spiral of events that unfolded in his life from that point. He talked about the darkness. The people he found himself surrounded by. The giving up. The giving in. And the pain that just wouldn't go away. With humility, sadness, and strength, he told those teens about the dark road he traveled for nearly a decade before he found himself at His Way.
He was a broken man at rock bottom.
And then he talked about encountering JESUS.
He had grown up going to church, but this wasn't the same. The way these men talked about GOD was different. It didn't feel out of reach and unattainable for someone as broken as him. He was shown the truth: it was for him. All of it. His brokenness didn't in some way disqualify him from JESUS, making him not good enough and never able to be good enough. He didn't have to be perfect. He just needed to have JESUS.
I watched Daniel tell those students this bold and powerful Truth. He had finally found the solution to all that had unraveled in his life. He had finally found relief from the pain and the strength to stand up and be the man he truly wanted to be. He had finally found the answer to his life's desperate search.
And he found it all in JESUS.
All that we are-- the lacking and the good-- can be secure in who HE is.
That Truth changed Daniel's life. It was obvious to me, and it was obvious to those students.
It was a beautiful thing to watch GOD work in Daniel and in those teens that morning.
And that morning, as I sat in a random art room at Grissom High School, I was seeing Daniel.
But I was also seeing JESUS.