The news wasn’t good. “Neighbor Bob just got home from three weeks in the hospital. If you want to see him, you better visit soon.”
Our hay supplier’s words echoed in my ears. Ugh. I’d stayed away through the COVID-19 time because Bob was fighting cancer, a battle he’d been waging for five years. I’d known Bob for the twenty years we’d lived in our valley, but I wasn’t sure I’d learned to read the man well. I sometimes brought him cookies or sweet bread, and we traded stories about area wildlife or neighborhood drama. I shared about my children’s escapades. And sometimes we ventured into the craziness of the world, dipping our toes in the waters of politics and skirting around the issue of faith.
When his cancer diagnosis was made, I felt an urgency to share Christ with Bob, but in a gentle way. I was ever mindful of the signs posted on his front door. Is There Life After Death? Trespass and You’ll Find Out. No soliciting. Leave your religion at the door and I’ll leave my shotgun in the closet. Imprinted on my brain, these signs added to my uncertainty.
Sharing a story
Bob’s immediate decision was to not have chemotherapy. His adult children worked to persuade him, but he wouldn’t listen.
I decided to try. I shared the story of my then twelve-year-old son who’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I explained that the chemo and radiation were hard and scary, but Justin found faith, and God walked with him through those times. “If chemotherapy gives you more time with your loved ones, it’s worth it.” I added, “If my twelve-year-old son can do this, you can too.”
I don’t know if my words were a turning point, but chemotherapy bought him five more years.
Now we were at another turn in the road. I wrestled with God as to how I could share Christ with Bob while there was still time. I woke in the night, tossing and turning and thinking through the exact words, the scripture verses, and the way I would share so it would flow together.
The weight of the responsibility was heavy. “What if I mess up the words, and Bob hardens his heart? Lord, this should be a gift to give, but I’m full of worry. Please take away my anxiety.”
In the quiet, His Spirit spoke. This isn’t all on your shoulders. Don’t you think I’ve had others speak into his life? Don’t worry about what you will or won’t say. Just go visit him, love him, and be a good neighbor. God’s peace settled over me as the burden lifted.
Sharing a gift
The next day I was tied up with canning pear sauce and couldn’t get away to visit Bob, though I wanted to. Again, the Lord gave me His peace about the timing of my visit.
Meanwhile, I tried to think of a gift I could bring him. Chocolate bars were a favorite, but that and anything else I considered didn’t seem right. Finally, I realized the answer was right in front of me: a jar of my pear sauce.
The following day, I went to town for an appointment. On the way home, I stopped at Bob’s house, a little apprehensive because he had two visitors already. I decided to try anyway. I could at least drop off the pear sauce.
His son, Bobby, answered the door. His eyes brightened when he saw me, and he was pleased by the gift. “Dad’s not eating much, and it’s difficult to find something he likes.”
The Lord knew that, but I hadn’t.
“Dad had a rough time yesterday, but he just woke from a long nap. I think he’d enjoy a visit.” So my visit wouldn’t have worked out yesterday. Once again, God’s timing was perfect.
Bobby showed me in. My eyes adjusted to the darkened room, illuminated only by the light reflected from a nearly wall-size flat screen television. Bobby turned the volume down and rejoined his friend in another room, giving Bob and me a chance to visit in private.
My neighbor lay in a reclined hospital bed, with pillows propping him up as he watched the news. I looked past the machines connected to Bob’s thin body and took in his failing state. His gaze met mine and his eyes lit up. He was pleased to see me.
I noticed then Bob was wearing a cross necklace. My heartbeat quickened. Was this God’s sign for me to speak? Patience. We talked about his hospital stay and his cancer, his children and mine, and the state of the world. He was happily engaged in our conversation, and we visited for over an hour.
“Bob, do you ever read the Bible?”
“Yes. I have two different ones.”
“Are you familiar with John 14?”
“It’s one of my favorite passages.”
He wanted to hear it, so I plunged in and recited the passage for him.
‘“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
Bob’s eyes lit up as I recited the verses. Suddenly empowered, I repeated, “Let not your heart be troubled. He knows we’ll have worry and be anxious, but He is preparing to meet us when it’s time to go home.”
Sharing prayer and time
I took Bob’s hand and squeezed it, our gaze meeting with an understanding I’d never witnessed before. When I offered to pray for him, Bob eagerly accepted. “Dear Father, I ask for You to strengthen Bob for this journey. I pray You’ll relieve his pain and help keep his eyes focused on You. Be with him and prepare him to meet You, just as we all must prepare to meet You one day. Thank You for being with us through everything.”
With tears in his eyes, Bob thanked me while squeezing my hand. Yes, God had prepared Bob for his homecoming, through others as well as me, working in ways I couldn’t have known.
“Would it be all right if I come visit again?”
“Please. Anytime, hon.”
And so, I did. Several times. We got to know one another in a way we hadn’t in the past twenty years.
And yet, those years weren’t a loss. I realized the days of simple conversations had been a crescendo to the most important discussions we were having now. And when Bob finally passed, God’s gift to me was the assurance in my heart that without a doubt, my neighbor was in the arms of Jesus.