By: Tonya Stevenson
One August afternoon my aunt called, “Tonya, Jim had a tree fall on him. It killed him.”
“Jim! Jim who?” There were lots of Jims in our family.
“Your brother, Jim.”
I think we never truly know what we have until we lose it. I sat down on the floor sobbing. “Oh God, not Jim, not Jim.”
Then a heavier hopelessness engulfed me as I realized, I didn’t know if Jim knew the Lord. I was the first to know the Lord. I had presented the gospel to my siblings, but not Jim. Why had I not Jim? I was closest to Jim. What he thought mattered most. He was married before me. We lived in different states, all empty hated excuses.
Oh God, please do not let my brother be in hell, because I did not tell him of you. Please God let someone have told him.
The God of All Comfort whispered to my broken heart a verse I wasn’t familiar with then. “Before you call I will answer…” I latched on to it desperately. “Oh God, let it be true, if I didn’t pray fervently before, I am now. You are not bound by time. By your great grace please, let my brother know you and let us know he does.” I pleaded, “Let your gospel be presented at his funeral and bring forth fruit.”
My eldest daughter, my sister and I loaded into my car to drive all night cloaked in broken treasured memories. Our families would follow later.
Jim, eleven months my junior, was for eighteen years the closest person in my life. I can never remember not being proud of him. He was a little man from the earliest age, rock solid, with brown hair, soft brown eyes and that unique welcoming grin.
Jim was quiet and easy going, yet always cracking everyone up, notorious for practical jokes.
People gravitated to Jim wherever he was. He was fun, but I think it was more the deepness of his character. He never put on airs, no emphasis on clothes or accomplishments, he focused on others. If there was work to do, he was all in, no matter how hard or nasty. Above all, Jim was true and loyal. To be his friend or family meant you always knew you were welcome and he would be there.
He married his high school sweetheart, they had five young children. He built them a big log house debt free. His family was most important. On weekends he fixed the kids breakfast, so his wife could sleep in. He coached his kid’s sports after work.
Early the next morning funeral decisions were made. They would take Jim’s body to his house until the funeral. No preaching, everyone just share memories.
We were told he had died instantly, his body-purple from his chest down, said otherwise.
The end of that long day, my daughter and I drove the fifty miles to my Dads. There was nothing to see of even one of those prayers being answered. Through tears, I told my daughter, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”
The next morning my four year old nephew thumped his father’s head almost angrily, as if demanding him to wake up. He was very much a Daddy’s boy, as were all. Jim had told him he would take him riding when he came home. He would not ride for over a year, because he wanted his Dad to take him.
Later as Jim’s wife ran her fingers through his hair, she told me, “Tonya, you have to know this. Jim saw God.”
Her parents walked in, she said, “I’ll tell you later.”
I was left to puzzle. Whispers spread, a Christian saddle maker was flying in the former pastor, whom Jim had known and coached with. He would do the service.
I was called to my sister in-laws bedroom as she dressed for the funeral, she told me an amazing story of my brother seeing a man in white, two weeks before he died. Then she said, “But what Jim really wanted me to know was that he believed.”
I was thankful, but still questioning, “Who told him the gospel?”
Before the funeral, I met the Pastor and told him the story. He informed me that he had presented the gospel to Jim and found him to be the most honestly seeking person he had ever known. Romans 3, tells us that no man seeks after God. It is always God who calls us first. Now by God’s amazing grace we could grieve with eternal hope.
Oh yes, the gospel was presented at both a overflowing church and the gravesite. At least one of my brother in-laws accepted the Lord that day. God answers.