|My younger brother, Jimmy, high school photo 1976.|
To hear my brother tell it, he began drinking when he was 18, but being his older sister by 14 months, I can tell you his drinking habit was well establish by that time. Where he got it or how he got it, it is a mystery to me because our parents, though unchurched, were not drinkers and never had any liquor of any sort in the house. By the time my brother was 27 he had already lost jobs, lost girl-friends, and had suffered alcohol induced diabetic comas where we were called to his bedside because he was not expected to make it through the night. Then in January, 2003, my mom and sister called me and tearfully asked me to come home from Kenya. Jimmy, at age 44 was dying with cirrhosis of the liver. All his vital organs were starting to shut down, and it was recommended that he go into a hospice care program.
Even though our paths were very different, Jimmy always had respect for me. When we were in our mid-teens, Jimmy had a friend come by to visit. When his friend started using foul language, Jimmy told the guy to stop. His friend said, “Why, you say the same stuff!”. My brother told him, “Yeah, but not in front of my sister. She goes to church and she doesn’t like that kind of stuff, so I’m telling you, don’t do it.” I had never said anything to my brother about how he spoke in front of me. I think it was because of this respect that Jimmy would often call me to talk about spiritual things. Though Jim was seldom sober at those times, I took the opportunities to keep the door of communication open and to be a witness to him.
After the call from my mom and sister, arrangements were made for me to leave alone within the next 3 days. Not an easy task when you have to book connecting flights from Nairobi, to Amsterdam, to Chicago, with a re-boarding in Memphis before continuing on to Arkansas. And, since this was 2003, the tragedy of 911 had established new guidelines. My quick arrangements had raised warning flags at every point of my journey. I was scrutinized at every opportunity both going and on my return trip.
When I arrived home, I went directly from the airport to the hospital where my brother was still in the ICU. For the next two months, while Jimmy was in and out of the hospital, going back and forth to the doctor’s, as well as receiving out-patient care for the tapping of his swollen abdomen, I took every opportunity to witness to him until he finally told me, “I don’t want to hear any more and that’s as nice as I’ll be about it, don’t talk to me about this any more. Respect me enough to leave me alone.” My heart sank, but I returned the respect my brother had shown to me and refrained from saying too much.
Being home for those 2 months was one of the most emotional times I have ever experienced concerning the eternal destiny of a loved one! I could see my brother getting closer to death as his physical features changed, and I could feel his life slipping away as each day passed, knowing he wasn’t saved. All the prayers had been prayed. All the attempts to witness had been made. He was on the edge of life with the shadow of death getting nearer, and yet he continued to say “I guess I’m not ready yet.” There was nothing else I could do but Rest in the Lord, trusting Him to honor 33 years of prayer and witnessing on my brother’s behalf.
Walking into my brother’s ICU room on a Friday morning (March 14, 2003), with my older brother and Mom, we found Jimmy unusually quiet. After a few minutes, Jimmy turned to me and said, “I think I’m ready.” My mom was standing nearest him and asked what he was ready for, while my older brother walked out of the room. In frustration Jimmy answered, “Mom, I think I’m ready to die!” As only a mother would, Mom told him, “Oh, no Jim, you’re going to be alright. You’ve made it through tough times before. You’ll be alright.” Our visit was short because this was the ICU. When I returned later, alone, Jimmy had been medicated and could not respond to any conversation.
It was on a Saturday morning when I next saw Jimmy but he didn’t want to talk about spiritual things. Mom and I left and later returned for the afternoon visit. My sister’s pastor also came by. Pastor Hill asked Jimmy if he could have prayer for him. My brother’s response to this question was startling to me. Jimmy sat up straight and quickly glanced at me and then back to Mom with a very startled look on his face, all the while Pastor Hill was explaining that this was just a prayer of comfort and that many people found it to be a great comfort when they were in the hospital not knowing how things would turn out for them. My brother gave permission for Pastor Hill to pray and then I realized what Jimmy was thinking. He thought this was it, the prayer you prayed when you want to go to heaven, but Jimmy didn’t pray, and it was obviously only a prayer of comfort offered by Pastor Hill.
It was later that same day that my mother and I returned for the last visit of the day. Jimmy was in a very bad mood, and so, Mom and I just sat quietly in the room. There were times when Jimmy could be so mean. He had hurt our mom and dad so deeply with his words and actions that their emotional pain became a physical pain, and they wished they could separate their lives from his. But Mom and Dad never turned their backs on their son. They suffered - they suffered greatly waiting for any ray of hope that would return their son to them, the son who had been stolen from them through his self-indulgence of drugs and alcohol. Loved ones wait, but they don’t wait without hurting, and they don’t wait without sacrificing their own peace and happiness.
I sat in the chair of Jim’s ICU room thinking I couldn’t witness to him again. I didn’t want him turning to God in his last hours of need and using God as if God were some sort of lotto ticket he could try his luck with and then throw away if things didn’t work out. But the Lord spoke to my heart with these questions: “What if you were suffering the physical pain he was suffering, even though you knew you had inflicted it yourself? What if you were suffering the emotional pain of wasted years, knowing you had caused it yourself? What if you were suffering the loneliness as the result of abandoning your loved ones for your own self-indulgences? What if you were finally facing what you knew all along, - ‘I am going to die and go to hell!’?” And I knew at that moment, I would be angry at the world, just like my brother was. I realized, that for the first time in my brother’s life, Jimmy had finally stopped blaming others for his failures and his problems, and had finally accepted everything as his own fault. That, in itself, is a painful experience, especially when you have spent your lifetime blaming others, and justifying yourself to yourself.
Then I heard Jimmy speaking to me. He said, “Jane, I want you to pray for me.” Never before had Jimmy asked me to pray for him. I stepped closer to his bedside, and he took my hands. I held his hands as tightly as he was holding mine. I remember thinking, “He’s trying to hold onto life itself.” My brother then said, “Jane, I want you to save me.” I said, “Jimmy, you know it’s not me that can save you; it’s God.” Jimmy’s response was, “Well whatever it is, I want it.” I told Jimmy that he needed to trust Christ and said, “You know you’re a sinner!” Jimmy’s response was, “I know that for sure! I’ve never done anything good.”
With the many times I had talked with my brother about his need of salvation, there wasn’t too much more I could tell him that he didn’t already know. But, there was still one thing I needed to know for my brother, and it was in that moment that my understanding of my brother was made very clear to me. I said to him, “Jim, there is one thing I have learned about you, and that is that you have never trusted anyone in your entire life. I don’t know why, but I know you have never trusted anyone, not the doctors, not the nurses, not Mom or Dad, not anyone.” My brother’s response was, “You’ve got that right.” I don’t know why Jimmy had such a problem with trusting people, but this was going to be his most difficult obstacle to overcome. Then Jimmy said to me, “Well you’ve trusted God most all of your life.” I said, “And I can tell you this, you can trust God.” I think Jimmy needed to borrow some faith that day - some faith from a life well lived for Christ, something consistent that he could look back over the years and say, “This is real!” So Jimmy took what little faith he had and borrowed the rest he needed, and we prayed.
I prayed for my brother, asking the Lord to help him to have faith to trust Him. When I had finished praying, I saw the face of my brother. His eyes were still closed and tears were streaming down his face. I said to him, “Jim, if you want to go to heaven when you die then pray this prayer with me meaning it with all of your heart.” Jimmy prayed the sinner’s prayer with me, and when we were finished, he looked across at our mom. Mom was quietly sitting in a chair looking out the glass door of the ICU room we were in. Jimmy turned back to me and said, “I wonder how much Mom heard.” Mom has a hearing problem and has to be focused on you just to be sure she can hear what is being said. I said to Jimmy, “I don’t know, why don’t you tell her.” Jimmy called to Mom and said, “Mom, Jane just saved me!” I know it wasn’t me, but if you were a 44 year old man that only went to church for funerals or weddings and spent most of your life running from God and trying to “drown” your sorrows with alcohol, how would you put it?
I had nine days left before I returned to Kenya and needed to see something to reassure me that Jimmy had really gotten saved and had not just prayed a prayer hoping his life would turn around for the best. My first reassurance was in knowing my brother. This was a serious topic with him, and the respect he had for me would never allow him to “use” me or God in that way. Later, Mom and I walked into his hospital room, and he was watching a religious program on TV, not something my brother would have ever gotten caught doing before. A few days later, Jimmy was discharged from the hospital and put into hospice care. When the nurse came by the house to do all the paperwork and medical checks, she asked Jimmy if he wanted a Chaplin to come and visit him. Jimmy told the nurse, “No, I’ve already got one,” pointing to me standing behind him. Jimmy went on to say, “Thanks to my sister, I’ve made my peace with God. And you know what? I’ve got all her church and my other sister’s church praying for me. I’ve even got people in Africa praying for me.” The nurse said to him, “And now you have one more praying for you.” But probably the moment that was most significant to me, and to those who knew my brother, was the day I needed to pick my mom up from the hairdresser. This was just a few days before I had to leave and as I was going out to use the car that had been loaned to me, Jimmy said, “Hey, you can take my truck if you want to.” I told my brother it was fine, that I could use the car. But Jimmy kept on insisting even telling me I could take it anywhere I wanted. Now his truck was a brand new, beautiful white truck, and nobody touched his truck, but that day he let me drive it and actually gave me free reign to use it when I wanted. When I pulled up in my brother’s truck to get Mom, there was a look of astonishment on Mom’s face as she said, “I am amazed! What did you do to rate driving your brother’s truck.” “Nothing mom! Jimmy finally learned how to trust Someone other than himself.”
Sixteen weeks later, Jimmy went home to be with the Lord on July 6, 2003. It was my sister’s pastor who preached his funeral. Mom had emailed me about a week after I had returned to Kenya with this note; “...the social worker wrote everything down and then asked Jimmy if he wanted the Chaplin to come out and he said, ‘No, I have made my peace with God thanks to my sister,’ so you did a lot for your brother." This was now the second time Jimmy had made this same statement.
Our next furlough was January, 2004, and it was at this time that my mom showed me Jimmy’s wallet. Folded and tucked away inside Jimmy’s wallet was a newspaper clipping he had saved. As I unfolded the article, I noticed it was dated February 2001. It had been clipped from a Baptist paper, and it was the plan of salvation. Jimmy took it seriously.