Saturday, September 04, 2010


On Saturday, as I was visiting my friend Robert Higgins I saw nurses running into another man’s room with oxygen tanks and equipment. The man’s name was Emery. I knew him because he was a friend of Robert’s. On my way past his door, I got to see Emery briefly as the EMTs wheeled his stretcher out of his room and towards the ambulance waiting in the parking lot. He raised his hand to wave to me as he passed me in the hallway. “Take it easy, Emery,” I said. “You’ll be in my prayers.”

On Monday, when I dropped by to visit Robert again on my way home from work I glanced into Emery’s room and saw two administrators packing up his things into a box. One of them caught my eye as I walked by and I asked about Emery. The two of them looked at one another first, unsure of what to say since I wasn’t a member of his family. Finally one of them said, “Emery won’t be coming back anymore.”

I couldn’t believe it. He was conscious just two days before. He looked at me and waved and responded to my voice. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t breathing through an oxygen mask. He looked like he always did. But, now he was gone forever.

When I walked into Robert’s room I knew that he had already heard the news. Emery had been a friend to him for several years. In fact, it was Emery who had encouraged him to stay at this same senior care center back in January of this year. He was one of Robert’s only real friends in this world.

Robert was eating his dinner when I walked into his room. “Did you hear about Emery?” Robert nodded mid bite. We talked about how long Emery had been there at the home – over 8 years – and how everyone loved him and missed him. “He was a good guy,” Robert said. And in his own way, he was a good guy. Emery was always sharing his cigarettes with everyone and he never asked for anything in return. He argued hard to defend his friends whenever he felt they weren’t being treated fairly. Emery also cussed like a sailor. Even though he knew me as “Robert’s pastor” he never held back the F-bombs whenever we talked, and he never apologized either. “This is me,” he seemed to say. “Love me or leave me, I’m not going to pretend to be anyone other than who I am.”

My visit with Robert was too brief. It was getting near my own dinner time and I had my oldest son, Dylan with me, so I prayed with Robert and we left for home.

During dinner our family small-talked about how our individual days at school and work had gone, but I couldn’t get Emery’s death out of my head. When we were finished eating I took my Bible and kissed my boys goodnight. After my wife prayed with me, I went back to see Robert.

When I walked in he was shocked to see me, but he quickly admitted through his tears that he was very glad I came back to visit him.

“I kept thinking about what happened today with Emery and I realized I needed to talk to you about some things that are very important,” I said.

After muting the television, I pulled his wheelchair close to his bedside and took a seat. “There are some things I’ve been wanting to say to you, Robert, but I’ve been waiting for the right time. You know that I care about you a lot, Robert. You know that I’ve never tried to force anything on you in the past, and I’m not going to do that now either. I just know that there are some things that I need to say to you while I still can, or I won’t be able to live with myself.”

So, I started in Romans 3 and I read to him the verses which explain that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I read in Romans 6 about how the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord. We talked about how none of us is good enough to earn life. Even Mother Teresa and Billy Graham won’t be in heaven because of anything they’ve done, but only if they’ve accepted this free gift from God. “None of us can ever do enough good things to erase the bad things we’ve done,” I said. “We all need the free gift of God which is life through Jesus.”

I finished by reading Romans 10:9-11, which says, “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

I left my Bible open on the the tray table between us and said, “Robert, one day I’ll come into your room and you won’t be here anymore. One day you’ll be the one who dies here. You and I both know that’s true. I can only take care of you until that day comes, but after that I can’t go with you any further. I need to know that you’re in the arms of Jesus.”

Robert’s lower lip started to tremble. His eyes filled up with tears. “I do what I can to talk to God,” he said. “But I’ve never been very religious. I was raised to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and to pray every night before I go to sleep, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

I closed my Bible while Robert tried to compose himself. “Robert, you and I have talked before about this, remember? I’ve said before that I think sometimes we make things more complicated than they really are. Being a Christian isn’t about attending church or joining this meeting or that group. It’s simply about trusting Jesus and admitting that you can’t do life on your own. Admitting that we need his help, just like in that prayer.”

We talked a bit more about Emery and what a good friend he had been to Robert. We both shared memories of things he had done or said and we both agreed he would be very missed. As usual, Robert changed the subject and said, “Do you have some time to take me outside for a cigarette?”

I helped him into his wheelchair and pushed him outside. We sat in the cool dark of the night and talked a little more about the uncertainty of life. After he finished his cigarette I wheeled him back to his room. In the hallway on the way to his room he said, “I’m real glad you came back to see me tonight and to read those verses to me,” he said.

After I helped him into his bed and he laid back against the pillows, I took his hand and prayed with him. I prayed for Emery’s daughter and his family to be comforted. I prayed for Robert to be comforted, too, and I prayed that the Holy Spirit would open Robert’s heart to the scriptures we had read together. I reminded Robert, through my prayers, that God was near to him and that Jesus promised never to leave him or forsake him. I reminded him, as I always do, that he can just call out to Jesus anytime he needs to. Even when I’m not there and no one else is around.

“I love you, Robert,” I said before I waved goodbye.

On the way down the hallway I felt the weight of discouragement. My grand scheme to lead Robert to faith in Christ had failed.

As I walked past Emery’s now dark and silent room, one of the residents was rolling by on her wheelchair. She smiled as she saw me coming and held out her arms to me. She wanted to say something to me, so I slowed down and stood beside her. She lifted her arm and put it around my shoulder. She gently pulled my face near to hers and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

“God bless you,” I said. She smiled, and then she laughed softly. “God bless you, too!”

As I continued down the hallway and out towards my car I started to weep. Somehow I knew in my heart that this kiss was from the Lord to me. Somehow my time with Robert that night wasn’t empty or meaningless anymore. It was all part of God’s eternal plan.

What mattered most to Robert tonight? I wondered. Was it that I had come to preach to him, or was it mainly that I had remembered that he was alone and that I knew he was feeling sadness after the death of his friend? Maybe the very fact that I was willing to take an hour of my time and go back to encourage him was enough of a blessing in itself?

This morning when I woke up, I was still thinking about Emery’s death and what Robert and I had talked about the night before. Laying there in the silence, in those precious moments before my alarm went off, I started to think about all of the conversations that Jesus had with people in the New Testament about eternal life in the Kingdom. In every case Jesus gave an individualized, custom response to their question. Whether it was the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus the Pharisee, or the thief on the cross, the answers were all unique. But what was the same in every case was this: the person had come to Jesus and asked about what was required to enter the Kingdom of God or to receive eternal life. In every case, although the answers were different, the question and the need was the same.

Maybe what’s missing for Robert right now is a desire to know the answer to that question? In all of our conversations about Jesus or about life and death, he has yet to show any real curiosity or hunger to know the answers.

The time I’m spending with him as his friend and his servant has made an impact on his heart. I’ve seen him soften over the last year and I know that God is working through these simple acts of service. Trusting that God is in control and that He has Robert in his hands is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. What scares me most is that Robert might die without me ever knowing for certain that he has placed his hope and his heart fully in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Keep Robert in your prayers, please. Pray that God will do His work on Robert’s heart, please. And also pray for me that I will have the faith to be obedient to Jesus no matter what happens.


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