The following is a summary of a letter that I wrote but never delivered to one of my dear friends. I always thought that I had more time, but Cancer cut our time short.
I have been wanting to write this letter to you for at least the past 15 years. You have no idea how much you have affected my life, but I will try to express the depth of my appreciation and your influence now. I can vividly remember the moment during church when it was announced that you had cancer. I said to myself that you certainly wouldn’t be back at church after that day. Boy, was I wrong. I thought for sure when your hair fell out you would not be back after that. I was wrong again. At that time, I was basically a spiritual infant, but I didn’t know it. I attended church regularly, I sang all of the songs, listened to all of the sermons, and then I went about the rest of my day. To me, this was normal, and I had no idea what faith really meant until I met you. I knew what the word looked like on paper, but you showed me what it looked like in practice. Sunday after Sunday you kept showing up at church not showing even the slightest bit of defeat, like you had the advantage somehow. I was puzzled. How could someone with such a dire diagnosis stay so positive and upbeat? It didn’t make any sense to me then, but it is very clear to me now. What you were doing just by showing up started the ball rolling to let God really come into my life. You probably thought nothing of it, but my outlook on Christianity itself started to change just a little right then and that’s when things started to change for me.
Not long after this I got to know a couple at church who had a real passion for mission work, especially in Mexico. They came back from these mission trips summer after summer all spiritually charged and fired up for more. “How cute”, I thought. “Very generous”, I thought. I could not see what they were seeing, but you convinced me to go with them on their next trip. I’m not sure how you did it, but that “Million Dollar Smile” of yours and your charm somehow got me there. The absolute depravity of the whole mission scene was almost too much for me to take in. Those people had nothing. No running water, no electricity, no paved streets. They were the poorest people in the poorest conditions I had ever seen and my heart went out to them. Building houses with you and our team was more than rewarding, it was life changing. There was something else going on there besides just hammers and nails on that worksite. The most impactful event of the project was at the end after we completed the house and dedicated it to God and the new owners. The wife was standing there with her Bible in her hands with tears running down her face and she was telling us how blessed she was. But how could she be so blessed? I didn’t get it. She still had practically nothing, but she had something that I didn’t have, and I wanted some of it. That temporary work led to permanent changes in my spiritual life and I want to thank you for that.
After that mission trip I started to slowly see things through your eyes. Faith, hope, and love were just words before I met you, but they were starting to have real significance to me. At this point I was starting to grow up a bit spiritually. I started to really listen, and I wanted to learn more. The seed you planted in me had begun to sprout and it was as if one spiritual event seemed to lead to another and another and another. This started when I attended a Promise Keepers conference. I was there with 14,000 men, arms locked together and praising God. I could literally feel His spirit amongst us. Then came the Worship and Music conference where I found my voice and really learned how to sing. After that I joined a small group of friends in a religious-based book study club. I was inspired by you again as you continued to go round for round with cancer and I started to talk and listen to God daily. That’s when I took the leap of faith to get the Nehemiah Center of Navasota started. It was one of the proudest moments of my life and due to your influence, you should share the sense of pride and accomplishment that I feel.
It was your utter defiance, your extreme courage, and your unbreakable faith that I saw Sunday after Sunday that led to my walk with Christ that I have now. You had c ancer, but it never had you. You fought the good fight and you never gave up. In large part, you showed me what is possible when you get yourself out of the way and let God work through you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for our wonderful relationship and how you have changed my life and I will see you on the other side.
Your Brother in Christ, Alan
Alan Shoalmire is a resident in Grimes County and the owner of Grill Sergeant and submits a column to the Navasota Examiner every other week.