“Good morning!” I whispered to Kelly, my first cousin, on July 18, 2005. He opened his eyes and smiled at me. He was sitting in the hallway of a hospital in Gainesville, Fla., where, at age 74, he was being treated for thyroid cancer too aggressive to cure. His doctors believed that it would be only a matter of days, weeks or months before death came for him.
Kelly had been like a brother to me. He had been my protector since my birth, when he was only 9 years old. He was the standard by which I had measured my boyfriends. But life had dealt him many heartaches–first his father’s alcoholism and his parents’ divorce. Later, his own divorce, and the deaths of his daughter Tara and his second wife, caused him to further retreat from God.
Tara was a precious Christian woman, and just before she died of cancer, she asked me to pray for her daddy’s salvation. I assured her that I would, and I began to pray that God would soften Kelly’s heart. From time to time, I mailed him tracts and gave him subscriptions to Decision magazine, hoping to plant seeds in his heart.
On that July day God had arranged that we would have uninterrupted time together.
“I knew when I saw you that you had come to pray for me,” he said.
I did not know that. But God had made a divine appointment and invited me to be there. After already visiting Kelly several times, I hadn’t planned to see him that day. My son Tyler, who is a pastor, planned to speak with Kelly about Christ, and I felt he would be more effective. Yet God instilled in me a sense of calm so the conversation could flow naturally toward the Gospel.
We began to reminisce about our youth, laughing and shedding a few tears. He thanked me for not giving up on him after we had lost contact over the years.
We grew quiet and reflective. I looked down and noticed my bracelet from the Billy Graham Training Center, where my husband, Tom, and I volunteer. This “witnessing bracelet” is made of colored Austrian crystals. Each color represents a part of the salvation story. Touching the gold crystal that represents heaven, I quoted John 14:2-3 and said: “There is a holy God in heaven who loves us. He wants us to be with Him for all eternity.” When I spoke of Tara waiting for him in heaven, tears flowed down Kelly’s face. His heart, which had always been indifferent to spiritual things, began to open up and reveal his vulnerability.
Touching the black crystal, which represents our sinful nature, I cited Romans 3:23. “Our sin separates us from fellowship with God,” I said. We moved to the red crystal. “Because of God’s great love for us, He sent His Son, Jesus, to shed His blood on the cross to pay for our sins.” I explained that God is willing to forgive us and give us new hearts if we repent and accept the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.
There was no need to cover the white, clear, green and blue crystals. When I asked Kelly if he wanted to pray with me, he said “yes” in tears and brokenness. He asked Christ to forgive his sins, come into his heart and be his Savior. Tears of joy and peace flowed down our faces.
Kelly survived, though he continues to battle the cancer. But since that day, he has had peace with God in his heart. He says that God had impressed upon him to make amends with those he had hurt, and he has begun by asking for forgiveness, starting with his children.