Continuing with our series of entries from Judgment & Love, here is David Browder’s chapter. Again, J&L is a collection of 35 true-life stories illustrating the powerful truth that when love is shown in the face of deserved judgment, lives are changed. To order your copy at the reduced price of $10, go here or click on the button at the bottom of the post.

I did not realize this as a young boy, but my family broke the stereotypical mold in Alabama with their real and palpable agnosticism. As any child would do, I followed their lead and Christianity remained an afterthought in my progressive, south Birmingham neighborhood. Due primarily to my parents’ divorce, I found myself in a boys’ preparatory boarding school named The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the age of 15.

It was there that I providentially came under the influence of a Christian man and football coach named Terry Evans who (I would later find out, but not in so many words) embodied what I would later come to understand as the interplay between the Law and the Gospel (M. Luther). He was an ordained Presbyterian minister and my dormitory head for two years at McCallie. The man would stay up until all hours of the night, making sure the students under his charge were not engaged in any mischief. Most of the time, we were. When we were found out, consequences were swift and sure. So terrified were my roommate and I of Coach Evans that we actually planned to move out of “Bible Belk” (the derisive name all the kids had for the dorm) into another dorm where we were sure we could get away with more. Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, Coach Evans somehow talked us into staying in Belk, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in any phase of my life.

One particular time (never give teenage boys too much free time. . . a poor idea is likely to ensue), my roommate and I figured out that we could hook a camcorder to a computer monitor, get our hands on movies of ill-repute, and charge admission for the viewings in our dorm room. Coach Evans, a veteran of many long years in the dorm wars, was on to us in a very short time. The punishment could have been severe at a place like McCallie. My roommate and I were convinced it was the end of the line. But, when it seemed sure the ax would fall, it did not.

In fact, Coach Evans selected us to be prefects, senior leaders in his underclassman dorm, the following year. The idea that swift justice would not accompany a great misdeed was an utterly foreign concept. A place of honor instead of a ticket home? Perplexing. Astounding. At that point in my life, Coach Evans represented God to me. Previously I had expected strict, ethics-based exhortation. Suffocating and binding rules. He showed me something different. His incredible pardon planted a mustard seed in my heart that (after some trying times) I could look back on and recognize. I could see that Christ was the Friend of sinners and the Balm of Gilead. It probably saved my life quite literally.

This is not to say that I no longer failed Coach Evans. Au contraire, mon frère. Like Jean Valjean who quickly repaid the bishop’s grace with another grave sin in Les Misérables, I let him down in major ways at least twice more. But, that is not the point. My feelings toward him were positively and substantially reoriented. Because he represented God to me, I felt I could trust God in what would (a couple of years later) turn out to be the darkest period of my life. With no conditions or expectations. Not an emphasis on making me better but an emphasis on going from dark to light. Death to life.