When I first met Henry Covington, he was wearing a white t-shirt and perspiring from his forehead. He weighed over 400 pounds and when he shook my hand, I said to myself, "If this is a Man of God, I'm the man in the moon." But he had turned his life over to God on a night he thought he would be murdered. When he survived to the next morning, he began walking in a new direction.
Henry shared a lot of his past with me, and while there was a part of me that admired his honesty, there was another that felt his laundry list of bad behavior should somehow disqualify him from the pulpit.
I was wrong.
"I am an awful person," he had confessed to me. "The things I have done in my life, they can never be erased. That may not be who I am now, but it's who I was."
"I deserve hell," he whispered. "The things I've done, God would be justified. God is not mocked. What you sow, you reap."
But, Henry, all the good you do here—
"No." He shook his head. "You can't work your way into heaven. Anytime you try and justify yourself with works, you disqualify yourself with works. What I do here, every day, for the rest of my life, is only my way of saying, ‘Lord, regardless of what eternity holds for me, let me give something back to you. I know it don't even no scorecard. But let me make something of my life before I go?.?..And then, Lord, I'm at your mercy.'?"
I realized something that night after we talked: that I am neither better nor smarter, only luckier. And I should be ashamed of thinking I knew everything, because you can know the whole world and still feel lost in it. So many people are in pain—no matter how smart or accomplished—they cry, they yearn, they hurt. But instead of looking down on things, they look up, which is where I should have been looking, too. Because when the world quiets to the sound of your own breathing, we all want the same things: comfort, love, and a peaceful heart.
Maybe the first half of his life he did worse than most, and maybe the second half he did better. But that night was the last time I questioned how much Henry Covington's past should shadow his future. Scripture says, "Judge not." But God had the right to, and Henry lived with that every day. It was enough.