Yesterday, I began a Christmas story that came from my book Bryson City Seasons. Part 1 can be found here. This is the second of three parts. I hope it will be a Christmas blessing for you and yours:
The next morning, I made early morning rounds—well before our family would wake up to celebrate Christmas. I found Evan alone but awake. I greeted him and sat on the bed. He breathing was labored and shallow.
“Evan, how are you feeling?”
“Not so good, Doc. Didn’t sleep well.” He took a deep breath and continued, “Doc, I’ve been told you’re a man of faith. Because of that, I was worried about coming over here to see you.”
Evan didn’t answer for a moment. Then he looked deeply into my eyes. “Doc, lots of Bible thumpers call people like me and Richard evil things. I was worried you might think the same.”
Now it was my turn to be quiet a moment. I was trying to think about how I might respond to this man’s honesty and transparency.
“Evan,” I began, “my faith teaches me that the most important thing in life is a personal relationship with God. Everything else pales in comparison to that. And, I found that when I began that relationship with God, He was fully able and willing to guide me into doing and thinking the right things. So, the real issue isn’t what I think or what you think, but what He thinks.”
Evan smiled and I saw tears form in his eyes. “When I was a kid, church was important to me. I really enjoyed going—but, never more than on Christmas Eve. But, when I grew up I just grew away from it. Do you think your God would even want another relationship with me?”
For a moment I thought about the Bible verse that says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
“Evan, I know God would want to have a relationship with you. The Bible says that God loves us. In fact, He loves us so much that He sent his Son, Jesus, not just to be born in a manger on Christmas, but also to live a perfect life for us, as an example, and then to die a torturous death for us, for all of our wrongdoing. Evan, if you’re willing to believe that, He’s willing to begin that relationship with you—today—but only if you want to.”
Evan looked away, out the window of the ICU. The daylight was just starting to reflect off the new layer of snow. “It would be a good day to start,” he whispered.
I was quiet. The tears began to flow down his face and he sniffled. I reached out and took his hand. He gave my hand a squeeze and then looked back at me.
“Doc, I’ve done a lot of wrong things. Guess you thumpers would call me a pretty bad sinner, huh?” He smiled as he wiped his tears with his free hand.
“Evan, that puts you and me in the same exact crowd.”
He cocked his head and looked at me. “Dr. Larimore, are you … ? Are you like me?”
“You are?” he asked.
“Yes, but let me explain. The Bible explains that the sexually immoral and idolaters and adulterers and homosexual will not inherit the kingdom of God. But, Evan, it also says in the same verse that the greedy and slanderer and swindler will not either.”
Evan was quiet in his thoughts, so I continued. “You are homosexual. And, more than I’d like to admit, there are times when I’m greedy and a slanderer. Sometimes I’m far more selfish than I should have been and I’m certainly guilty of gossiping more than I should. So, according to the Bible, you and I are in the same exact crowd.”
Evan smiled and squeezed my hand.
“Evan, the Bible has a lot of names for Jesus. My favorite is that he was known as a friend of sinners. All he requires from us, if we want to have a personal relationship with him—if we want to be his friend—is for us to simply admit that we’ve missed the mark—that we’ve sinned and done wrong.”
“I guess I would qualify.”
I smiled. “Me too, Evan.” I paused to let him think a moment.
“I think I’d like to be his friend. That would be nice—especially on Christmas day,” Evan whispered, between labored breaths. “How do I start?”
“Actually, Evan, it’s pretty easy. You just talk to God—what us thumpers call prayer. Let him know you’re ready—invite him into a relationship with you, into your heart, and he’ll come in. First you have to realize that you’ve done wrong. Then, you have to be willing to trust him with your life and your choices.”
Evan nodded and closed his eyes. “Lord,” he whispered, “I begin.”
I smiled. It was the shortest and sweetest prayer I had ever heard. “Evan, the Bible says that when we admit to God our wrongdoing—just agree with him that we’ve missed the mark—that he will instantly and eternally forgive our sins. And, based upon that forgiveness, he’s willing to become your friend and your Lord and to reserve a room for you in Heaven.”
The tears were still flowing down his cheeks. He nodded.
“As of this minute, there’s a room with your name on it. The Bible says, ‘To as many as received him, he gave them the right to be sons of God’.”
Evan smiled, “I guess that makes us brothers, doesn’t it?”
I smiled. “It does.”
He smiled, nodded and squeezed my hand.
I left to go to the X-ray reading room and on my way back to the ICU I saw one of the nurses running toward the unit. I walked quickly into the ICU and arrived just in time to see Evan surrounded by nurses.
“He just had a respiratory arrest. OK to get him on a ventilator?” I nodded my assent and we went to work.
But from there, things went downhill fairly quickly. Evan’s pneumonia quickly evolved into ARDS—a severe form of respiratory disease that is very difficult to treat—and then he went into kidney and liver failure. He died late that same afternoon.
Only later would I learn what had actually killed him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Also, here’s more information on the Bryson City series: