By Luann Prater
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10
I received a birthday gift from Bill whom I had met for the first time two weeks earlier. My dear friend called and asked me to pray for her father who was having back pains and had been admitted to the hospital for testing.
I prayed, and then prompted by the Holy Spirit, I took off for the hospital. My friend MaryKay met me with a concerned smile. The man lying in the bed stretched out his hand as a smile broke across his face, a smile I recognized. "Luann," she said, "this is my father, Bill." One thing I have always admired about my friend is her gorgeous smile. Now I beheld the man who gave it to her, Bill.
Over the course of the next few days the tests revealed Bill had Acute Leukemia. He made the decision not to have treatment, but instead to go to MaryKay's house where he could be with his family. When MaryKay asked her dad if he was ready to face death, he replied, "Mary, I've been missing your mom for 27 years, it's time to go home."
As family members began to arrive, the Spirit compelled me to serve the needs of this hurting family. Just three years earlier I was the one in that position, the out-of-town child racing to her father's bedside. God filled me with empathy and an extra boost of energy to serve through His strength and not my own. It was amazing to become a spectator in my own life.
Over and over His realness poured down on me like rain. Time and again the Spirit would urge me to meet a need. I often found frazzled family members trying to share quality time while little children ran from room to room. "I’m here to take the kids to the park," I said, amazed at the words that were streaming from my lips. "What a blessing!" they cried. "What a surprise," I thought. Who knew that was going to be on my agenda that day? Only God.
For three weeks, my life was interrupted by His wonderful urges. It was oneness with the Lord that was new and exciting. I woke up every morning anxious to see what God had in store for the day.
One day, Bill overheard one of his grandchildren mention my birthday and he insisted on giving me a gift. What Bill failed to realize was that the most precious gift I could possibly receive was one he had already given. It couldn't be wrapped in a package or bought at a store. He had given me an example of love that is forever burned into my memory and into my heart. Bill’s desire was to impact his family in death as he had in life.
Three weeks after the initial diagnosis, Bill’s family Christmas was organized for March 23, 2002. Saturday morning came, lights were on the tree, festive music was playing and each member of the family found a special gift just for them. Inside each gift was a letter.
Thoughtfully dictated letters from Bill were distributed to each family member. Each letter read like a recipe - revealing to each loved one the unique ingredients that made them so special. Bill shared which gift had been reserved just for them, but one main feature accompanied each letter… an invitation. Every letter was a request to meet him in heaven someday for the next family reunion.
I was allowed to witness the final witness of a man in love with his family. His affairs were in order, his destiny was sure, and his good-byes were peaceful. The next week, Bill finished the race, but not before passing out his gifts of love.
This year give the most important gift of all to your family, an invitation to join you in heaven. When your end is near, will your family know where you stand with Christ? Will they know that you love them? How have you communicated your love to each family member? Will you follow Bill’s example by encouraging your family to finish the race and join you in heaven? What is holding you back from giving the most important gift of all? Who do you need to invite to the final family reunion?
Father, thank You for sending Bill into my life. When I get weary, Father, help me to follow the example of Your Son and Your servant, Bill, who served others faithfully and shared his love unconditionally. Amen.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
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©2019 by Luann Prater. All rights reserved.
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Originally published Monday, 26 September 2022.