Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Birthday Memory - Matt Neeley

Before my feet hit the floor the morning, I thought about Matt Neeley. Matt shared the same birthday as me, and he always made it a point to call me EARLY on our birthdays to beat me to the punch. He took great pride in waking me up some morning to laughingly wish me a happy birthday. I can't really celebrate a birthday without remembering Matt.

In October of 2005, his life (along with the lives of his father, Phil, and stepmother, Anne) was taken by a drunk driver, as he was returning home from the fair. His death was, of course, devastating, and left a larger than normal hole in the fabric of the Denmark community.

You see, Matt's faith in the Lord showed in how intensely he loved people. Labeled as learning disabled by some, Matt was actually a very powerful teacher. He taught everyone who knew him that love is not something you just talk about, it's something you do, whether it's rolling a senior citizen's garbage can to the road, putting their paper next to their door, watering their plants, or visiting someone who had recently lost a loved one. He was a devoted and beloved member of Bethel Park United Methodist church, and was known for getting there early to unlock and turn on the heat and lights, and for staying late to make sure everything was turned off and locked up.

He turned on the lights wherever he went, spending his weekdays working in the Barnwell School system to aid seriously handicapped students. He didn't do that because he got a paycheck, but because he truly cared for his students (like he truly cared for so many other people!).

As I shared with my church recently, one of my most prized possessions is a sport coat his sister gave me that belonged to him. Whenever I wear it, I think about Matt. Today I want you to think about Matt, too. Another reason I thought about writing about him is that I'm reading Francis Chan's book "Crazy Love" and am in the chapter about Christians who take God's word seriously by loving God and others "radically."

Matt took God's love seriously, and it showed. He left way too early, and now it is our job as Christ-followers to love as he real ways; in visible ways. Then again, it always has been, but remember Matt's example reminds me to keep being "intentional" about loving people.

As Paul reminds us: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Galatians 5: 13-14

I hope that's how you are spending your life! There is no better way! I've had a lot of emails, calls, and cards today wishing me a Happy Birthday, but one voice was missing, but I will NEVER forget that voice, or the love and friendship behind it. I'm also glad I'll see Matt one day when we're all home; and he'll be flashing that same big smile he so often had while he was with us.

Here is Matt with Adelene Copelan (at her 100th birthday party!), who was 104 last March and went to be with the Lord this past October. She, too, loved much so that on her last birthday, she pointed at my stomach and said, "that belly has got to go!" How I thank God for all my friends, those who are still here, and those who have gone on to be with the Lord!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The last time I saw Phil and Matt was at Dad's Funeral. How cool that you and Matt shared the same Birthday. Dad used to call Phil "Phil Frierson". Phil was in tears at Dad's Funeral. They're together now. If Dad's accident hadn't happened he would have been heart broken when we told him about Phil's death. Elizabeth, Mom, and I think that the Drunk Drive should have gotten life in Prison instead of only 15 years. What do you think Pastor Andy. Oddly enough the College/Young Professionals Group at my Church just finished reading "Crazy Love". Have a good weekend. Please give everyone at FBCD a hug for me.