I remember the evening a few years ago now when a visitor attended our church service. He was a slender man with lots of energy and it was obvious he was trying to find a place to sit. Certainly, he was aware of the rules for the Crawford Section; that we were very selective about someone invading our turf…but alas, he was not cognizant of our rules made for such a time as this. I made casual eye contact with him which to me was a disinterested glance and to him was an invitation to ‘come on over.’ He side-stepped down between the pews, stuck out his hand, and said, “I’m Steve, what’s your name?” I told him my name which to a Crawford is more than enough information for the first five or six meetings and then he said, “Mind if I sit by you?”
Breaking all of my own rules, I suppose because he caught me off guard, I said, “No, I don’t mind.” I don’t know what color lie that was but it was some shade of a prevarication. I historically don’t mingle well with people I haven’t properly vetted. Steve never gave me a chance to check him out before he sat down. He thought he was already my friend, and if not my friend, at least a brother in the Lord. After about five minutes of conversation he was right, he was my brother in the Lord and he was also my friend.
My comfort level is to ask questions of the other people I meet, I don’t have that much to say about myself and feel much more comfortable learning their inner workings without sharing mine. Steve wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted to know about my job and my family and if I knew of any good rabbit hunting spots.
But my favorite thing about Steve was on Wednesday evening services when Pastor would have us break into groups of three or four to pray. I always enjoyed praying with Steve. He would pray for my prayer requests and the next week he would ask if my request had been answered. He was one of those rare friends that actually cares about the other person and their concerns.
Then came the cancer diagnosis. There is no joy in watching a vigorous man, an outdoorsman, waste away to skin and bones. There is no joy in watching the inner man struggle with the end-of-life decisions that need to be made and the fears that are only natural. There is no joy in a Facebook posting that Steve has gone Home.
But there is a lot of joy in the memories. I think back to that evening he blatantly invaded the Crawford Section to sit next to me. I think of the friendship that budded that evening and blossomed over the years. I think of the Sunday evening service when Steve, with his feeding machine plumbed into his body, fell to sleep during the service because of the medications he was on. In super slow motion he would fall forward and to the side, almost falling out of the pew. My wife was afraid he was dying so I traded places with her and sat up next to Steve so when he would begin to fall asleep he would ‘fall’ into me. I did that because I loved him, even though he was invading my space yet again.
I think of the first night of my classes on grief when Steve attended and at the end we spent fifteen minutes praying for him and telling him how much we loved him and what a great example he was to anyone who was watching. There were few dry eyes in the room that evening.
A book that I read contained a story about a man who was at his own end-of-life moment. The doctors told him they could give him medication that would comfort him but he would be in an unconscious state. He said, “No, I have spent my life trying to show others how a Christian should live, now I hope to show them how a Christian should die.” Steve showed us how to live by refusing to give up, even while staring death squarely in the face—and he showed us how to die. I owe Steve a debt of gratitude, I am better for having known him.
I look forward to that day when I arrive on heaven’s shores. I will look around, maybe not see anyone right away that I know but when I see Steve I am going to walk over, stick out my hand and say, “Mind if I sit here by you?” Even if it means invading his space in the Steve Long Section of heaven’s cathedral. I bet he won’t mind.