Friday, July 30, 2010


Robert Higgins and I sat outside together today. He was in his wheelchair smoking a cigarette and I sat alone on a bench next to him.

There were four other men in wheel chairs all around us, puffing and coughing in unison. This was the smoking porch at Fountain Care where a handful of men made regular trips to "catch some fresh air" and swop stories of their youth. Cars whooshed by on the street just beyond the strip of bright green grass at random intervals. Talking was measured between the roar of the cars and the spasmodic fits of coughing.

We small talked, as usual, about the weather, about the Anaheim Angels, about what my family was planning to do this weekend. But in the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to talk to Robert about life and death. Over the last few days he hadn't been able to even sit up in bed, much less to stand up and get in his wheel chair to come outside. The cancer in his body was taking its toll and we both knew that it wouldn't be much longer now.

There was a small space of silence where Robert took a drag on his cigarette and a dozen cars flew by on the road nearby. I brushed at a fly which was zipping through the air.

"I sure don't know what you see in me, Keith," he said. "God must really love you a lot for you to show me so much love the way you have. I don't understand it."

I looked up at him and squinted as the smoke wafted into my eyes. What could I say to that?

"Well Robert," I said, "You're right. Jesus loved me and that's why I want to show you the same love. I want to serve and love the way Jesus would love and serve you."

He nodded but didn't respond. He took another drag on his cigarette.

A friend of his, Emery, was sitting near him in a wheelchair too. His motorized chair had broken down again, and so he needed someone to push him back into his room.

"Is it ok if I push Emery back to his room, Robert? I'll be right back," I said.

"Go ahead," Robert said.

After I got back Robert was all alone on the porch. "Ready to go?" I asked.

He stubbed out his cigarette. "Let's go."

I maneuvered his chair with one hand and held the large door open with my foot as I guided him back into the hospital. "You're getting pretty good at that," he said.

"I guess I am," I said as I rolled his chair down the hallway and back towards his room.

"You might have another friend in this place one day," he said. "At least you can say you've got a lot of experience with wheelchairs and things like that."

I wondered about that a little before I said, "You may be right, Robert. God might bring me another friend to take care of one day."

We got to his room and I helped him into his bed. He asked me if I could run to McDonalds and pick him up his usual - a Mini Meal with two apple pies. "Sure," I said. "I'll be right back."

Luckily the McDonalds was only a few blocks away. In less than ten minutes I was back in his room, laying out his double cheeseburger and squirting ketchup on his fries. "Here's your change," I said.

Robert sat up in bed and ate his food. After he was done I bagged up all the trash.

"I need to head home now, Robert," I said. "Can I pray with you before I go?"

"Ok," he said.

He lifted up his left hand to me, frail and skinny, and I knelt over and wrapped it between both of my hands.

"Robert," I said. "Everything I've ever done for you has been to show you that Jesus loves you."

Robert's eyes were closed but he squeezed my hand.

"Do you know that Jesus loves you, Robert?" I asked.

Robert nodded. "Yes," he said. "I do. I know that he does."

Then I prayed for Robert as I always do. I asked that Jesus would touch his heart and allow him to know how much he really loves him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would open his eyes to see that every good thing that has ever been done to him was God shouting, "I love you, Robert."

When we were done I gave his hand a squeeze. He squeezed it back and didn't seem to want to let go.

"Is today Friday?" he asked.

"Yes, it's Friday," I said.

"I hate the weekends," Robert said. "There's never anything on TV."

"I know." But I knew that it wasn't just the TV he hated. He hated that none of his hospice nurses came to see him on weekends and that he had few visitors.

"I'll try to drop by and see you if I can," I said.

"Ok," Robert said. "Ok."

I turned to go and gave him one last wave before I left his room, number 316, and made my way to the parking lot.

As Robert nears the end, I am suddenly aware of every small detail. I wonder if every goodbye might be the last, and I wonder what I will do without this friend in my life.

He talks about all I've done for him, but I cannot even begin to talk about what Robert has done for me, and what God has done in me through my friendship with him.

As I drive home I talk to God about this work He's doing in me, and in Robert. "It's so hard," I say. "I don't want to be in this struggle with you, God. I don't want to know the pain of loving someone and letting them go," I say. "I just want to know that Robert is going to be saved and that he trusts you with his soul."

But I know that it doesn't work that way. I know that to get to the fruit you have to get down on your knees and dig in the dirt. You have to get thorns in your hands and stung by the pests and you have to work in the heat until you can barely stand it anymore. The fruit only comes after a long season of struggle, and my only fear now is that all that I have labored for is in vain. Or that I might not really ever know what the real fruit of this labor is at all.

I want the touchdown. I want Robert to cry out to Jesus for salvation with tears in his eyes and repeat this perfect prayer of repentance before he breathes his last breath. But he might not ever do that. He might never move any closer to God than he is right now.

Is this it? I don't know. I only know that I feel like I've done all that I can do in my own strength. I have nothing else to give. I'm out of ideas. I'm hopelessly at the mercy of God now. Just like Robert. We're both out of strength and at the mercy of God.

At least I can trust in His goodness. I know that God is faithful and true. I know that He loves to rescue His children. I know that when it seems hopeless and dark, He loves to reach down and save His people in the nick of time.

Please, Lord Jesus. Save my friend. Please save Robert Higgins.




Like a Mustard Seed said...


Mark said...

As you've expressed in subsequent posts, there may not be a need for the "tearful" conversion experience. Robert is obviously moved by the love of God, shown to him through you. For what it is worth I will share a story of my own.

Several years ago I had opportunity to care for an older man in the hospital, who had end-stage COPD. This guy was one of the gruffest men I have ever known: hard to get along with, sometimes demanding, not at all at peace. One day, while making rounds, I felt a leading to share Christ with him. At this stage in my career this is a more common event, although still not common I would say. at that stage in my career it was even less common. I simply shared my beliefs with him, I think I may have prayed for him, although i can't recall for sure, and then I left. The next day I came back to a new man. He never expressed what happened. he didn't spout any special language or verbage, and he certainly didn't cry. He was just... at peace. I can't say beyond a reasonable doubt that he accepted the love of God that day, but based on that simple change I have to believe that he found God's saving grace.

Robert may never speak the same language you speak. He won't have the time to grow into the maturity that you've grown into. But I pray, with you, that he will find peace as well, and if he does then I believe he is saved.