Gently I tugged on the black cord creating a secure loop from which the turquoise cross hung. I put it over my head and tied a knot in back. Taking it off again to trim the ends I wondered if it would make a difference. The man I was going to see in the hospital was not the same young man whoíd given me the cross necklace.
Iíd loved it at first sight that Christmas morning of í79. It had white flat shell-like beads with black spacer beads every few inches. Dangling in the middle was a sterling silver cross inlaid with broken bits of red and turquoise stone. The ends are curved and remind me of an anchor.
Unfortunately the strand of beads broke at winter camp. I lost most of the beads in the snow. I tried using a chain to hang the cross but after breaking three chains I just left the cross in my jewelry box. Now, here it is almost 20 years later and I hope wearing it will help.
Somewhere in that worn out lost black sheep was a brother whoíd remember me. In my infectious disease control garb I didnít feel recognizable. The shock of seeing my big brother lying helpless with all his beautiful black curls gone would have to stay beneath the surface. The nurse needed my help to get Paul to drink his nutrition drink.
He didnít want any. He was anxiously looking at the TV. It was an airline commercial I think with big puffy clouds. I knew what he was thinking--Heaven.
ďYou want to see Daddy donít you?Ē I asked. He nodded. Our father had died 15 years earlier and it sent Paul spiraling down the drunkardís path to alcoholism. I reminded him that he could go to Heaven too but he had to make his peace with God.
Visiting hours ended. That night I tossed and turned as I realized that I hadnít explained what I meant. At work the next day I found myself absentmindedly clasping my cross and hoping Paul would still be alive when I got to the hospital. He was but heíd become non-verbal.
Something in his blue-grey eyes told me he needed to be convinced that God could forgive him. I talked to him about Saul in the Bible who killed Christians but then God met him, changed his name to Paul and he began to preach the gospel. I tried to explain grace and mercy but I always get the two mixed up. I was only able to visit a half-hour that day.
Another sleepless night wondering if I had I explained it well enough. Could Paul even understand? The nurse said he was suffering from hysterical blindness. I wondered if his spirit would remain blackened by the lies of the devil?
I went back the next day and talked some more. I donít know why but I didnít lead him in any kind of prayer. I donít know if I just didnít think about it or I didnít sense the timing was right. Maybe I was just too rung out from watching my brother die a senseless death because he chose alcohol over God.
Saturday morning and the routine is the same-almost. The nurse told me they had to put him on oxygen. I had gone to bed the night before clearly knowing God wanted me to pray with Paul. I gowned up and adjusted the cross on its simple black cord and walked in.
ďPaul, are you ready to ask Godís forgiveness?Ē I said. I think he nodded. I held his tanned hand in my gloved one and led him in the basic sinnerís prayer. Iíd say a line and then give him time but he couldnít repeat it out loud and I barely saw his lips move.
He died two days later, Monday July 15 1997 and the months that followed had some pretty black moments for me. I know God forgives but I wasnít sure Paul prayed. It was like being on Space Mountain. Roller coasters are scary enough but that oneís dark and you canít see where youíre going.
I still have that cross on that same black cord. God revealed to me that a black sheep had found his way Home. But even if I didnít know that, Iíd still hold fast to my faith. That necklace is a reminder to me that God is there even on the blackest of days.
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