For Elmer’s Sake
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8)
“Lord, why have you let Mother linger so long? You know she’s ready to go.”
It was two o’clock in the morning in December 1982. Sitting in the tiny, smoke-filled waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit, I thought back over the events of the last eighteen months: my mother’s cancer surgery, the chemo treatments, my eight trips between Arizona and Michigan, and the final surgery which led to the coma in which she now lay.
The week before, the doctor had told me “24 to 48 hours” and I had summoned my brothers and sister who had come, along with some of their children, to be by Mother’s bedside. Day after day we waited and watched. “She quit breathing,” someone would say and we’d rush to the cafeteria to get a family member. But by the time we returned, the breathing had begun again.
Exhausted, and needing to return home for a statewide Christian writers seminar I was leading, I often found myself alone in this little waiting room, praying and questioning God.
On this particular night, however, I was not alone for long. A man in his middle sixties made his way into the room, dragging his IV stand beside him. “How are you doing?” I asked him.
“Not too good,” he answered in a low voice. “My doctor told me today I have only six months to live.”
We chatted for awhile. Then he asked why I was there and I told him about my mother.
“How did she handle it when they told her?” he asked me.
I shared with him about her Christian faith which had kept her all through the years, and also that many people had been praying for her.
“I used to pray,” he admitted, “but I don’t anymore. It’s too late.”
“It’s never too late,” I told him. Reaching into my purse, I took out my New Testament and turned to John 3:16.
“Listen to this verse,” I told him. I read the words, putting his name in the appropriate places: “For God so loved Elmer, that he gave his only begotten Son, that [if] Elmer believes in him Elmer shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Elmer read the verse again, then he looked up and asked, “Does that mean there’s still a chance for me?”
“That’s exactly what it means,” I answered. I explained the gospel message simply and then asked if he would like to pray. He bowed his head and repeated the words I said to him. When we finished, he said, simply, “Thank you,” and left the room.
The next day while walking down the hall I looked up and saw Elmer coming toward me.
His head erect, he shook my hand and said, “It’s okay. I’m not afraid to die now.”
Then I knew why God had let my mother linger for so long. It was for Elmer’s sake.