“Can a person who has sinned a lot get into heaven?” That was how my neighbor of 20 years started the conversation as we sat on his front porch on July 4, waiting for the fireworks show to start. I was caught off guard because our visits generally started with catching up on current and community events. This time, however he cut straight to the chase with what was on his mind.
“I have committed some doozies,” he continued. I shared with him scripture about repentance and forgiveness. I told him that God looks at our heart — not the number or size of our sins. He proceeded to recount sins from his childhood to adulthood, including shooting a bird with a slingshot. Pondering moments in his life, he took deep drags from his cigarettes and exhaled, while I dodged plumes of smoke. He chronicled his sins to me as if I were a priest in a confessional. My attempts to interrupt him were futile. He needed to unburden himself, so I listened.
Last month, Allen, my neighbor was diagnosed with cancer. He lost his wife to cancer in February of last year. He was so heartbroken that he seemed to be on a quest to join her. He seemed disoriented, lost and without purpose — without her. To fill time and emptiness, we would talk about politics, business and profits. We also discussed many ways for him to use his time and talent. He settled on serving at his church’s food pantry.
Recently, I took Allen to the hospital to have surgery for his cancer. In the pre-op consultation, he gave the surgeon instructions to provide me with updates on his progress. Allen gave me a note to call family members in the event of his passing during surgery. We recited The Lord’s Prayer together before he was rolled away to surgery. I sat in the waiting room for hours, struggling to stay focused on projects staring at me from my laptop, while Allen’s welfare invaded my thoughts. No wife. No children. No family in close proximity. How was he going to make it to his radiation treatments? How was he going to take care of himself?
The doctor told Allen that if he continued to smoke, his precancerous field and surrounding organs would create new cancers. When the doctor left the room, Allen told me that he was not going to stop smoking. He said he would rather have one good year enjoying his life and smoking rather than having five years of life without smoking. On the inside, I gasped, because I knew what he was really saying. I realized Allen needed encouragement, not judgement. I paused for a moment, fought back the tears and then said to him, “I will be on this journey with you.”
Allen is a Harley-riding, stock-investing, iron-pumping, cat-loving entrepreneur whose primary desire is to please God. He is one of the nicest people I have met. He has a heart of gold, filled with compassion. He is the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back or his last dime — a rare soul especially today. Allen is now on a path where he is reflecting on his life, making peace with his past and reconciling with his Savior.
I don’t know what this journey is like for him. I don’t know the uneasiness, fear or questions running through his mind. What I do know is that the Lord placed us on this path together. In a few short months Allen has changed from patriarch to patient. I have changed from strategist to student. He in the hospital room; me in life’s classroom. Both of us talking to God and waiting for the lesson.
We are so different. He is a cat person. I am a dog person. He is a smoker. I am not. He is male. I am female. He is white. I am black. He is a Republican. I am a Democrat. Yet, he is my brother and dear friend. I am blessed to be on this assignment with him. We are two unlikely pairings, brought together by the same God for one purpose — salvation.
Theresa A. Dear is a strategist at The Human Capital Strategy Group. Visit her website at theresaadear.com.