As a teenager, I used to visit a small town in the hills of Tennessee on mission trips with my church youth group. I loved these trips, as it was a time of peeling away the layers of modern conveniences like television, and air conditioning, and getting down to what was really important in life like spending time with good people splashing in the fresh water creeks, chasing pigs, riding in the back of pick up trucks through miles of dirt roads, and finding Christ in the midst of it all.
We would lead vacation bible school for the children in this small community, many of whom waited all year for us to arrive.
On my first trip, I met a young boy, who was a bright, blue eyed, blonde headed, full of life kind of kid: except he was not really full of life. This sweet 10 year old was dying of AIDS. Robert had contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.
Keep in mind this was before the time blood was thoroughly tested, and those with AIDS were feared and most were ostracized.
My dear friend, Rose, and I were never afraid of Robert. In fact, he was our favorite kid.
On a hot afternoon, sitting in the sticky grass of a field, Robert asked Christ to come into his life. Rose and I prayed with Robert that afternoon, and it was a pivotal moment in my life.
I continued to visit Robert over the next couple of years and watched as the disease began to take its toll on his precious life.
After graduating from high school, I went to culinary school at Opryland Hotel in Nashville. I had not been back to visit Robert in a while and had really not thought about him much.
While throwing away my lunch one afternoon, I noticed a newspaper on the top of the garbage can in the cafeteria. After taking a second look, I realized the picture on the front of the paper was my sweet friend Robert lying in a hospital bed.
Later that afternoon, still dressed in my chef’s uniform, I went to Vanderbilt Hospital to see my friend. Robert’s eyes were sunken, his skin was yellow, and it was clear Robert was in his last days. Robert was happy to see me again, but not nearly happy as I was to see him.
I spent the next 2 days with Robert and his family at the hospital. Robert and I talked when he felt like it, and I would sit quietly with his family during the times he was silent.
Robert was not afraid of dying, and he told me during one of our talks about his great anticipation of seeing his Heavenly Father for the first time. Even at his young age, Robert had more trust in and love for his Savior than most grown people.
Late in the evening of the second day, at 14 years of age, Robert went to be with Jesus. I held his hand as he took his last breath.
I was with him when he met his Savior for the first time in the hot field as he asked Christ to be his Savior, and I was with him when he went to meet his Savior in Heaven. Few things in my life will mean as much to me as that night.
Nearly 20 years later, I still think about Robert. Robert lived this life with grace and forgiveness, and through his life, I learned to do the same. Life is precious, unpredictable, and far too short.
Becoming a Christian is not about a title or a destination. It is about dying to oneself everyday and allowing Christ to live through us. It is about fully accepting His calling on our lives and seeking to put down our selfish desires and clothe ourselves in who He is rather than who we aspire to be.
Christianity is about loving people…completely, regardless of the differences that separate us. It is about turning off the television and the telephones and spending time in His word and listening to His voice. It is not just about believing, but it is about living what we believe.
My prayer for you this week is that you will take the time to be alone with God, to know Him and allow his strength to become your strength, and His love to become your love and that you will eagerly share it with others.