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Sarah, a fourteen-year-old girl with thin, straight blond hair that reached down to the middle of her back, sat in the middle of a quiet food court praying with her mother. Christine, her mother, resembled her daughter with her hair falling around her delicate shoulders. No one seemed to pay attention to the pair sitting at the white table, praying for the food to nurture their bodies. Suddenly, a man around the age of thirty-five, with brown, untidy hair, walked up to them. His russet duffel coat was wrapped around him tightly, and stitched in white above his left breast was the name Jim.
“Well, then. Are you talking to your imaginary friend?” he asked in a sneering voice.
“Excuse me?” Christine began to say, but her daughter interrupted her.
“God isn’t imaginary. He is real and He changes lives,” Sarah stated in a tone that held so much love and power that her mother just gaped at her.
“Changes lives? Yeah, right,” Jim remarked sarcastically.
“You should try praying sometime; I can tell you need His help in your life,” she said hopefully.
“Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t feel like befriending the Easter bunny. Look kid, here’s some advice. Don’t put all your hope on your ‘God’. When it comes down to when you’re in real pain that tears your whole life apart, He won’t be there for you. And then, you will be more broken then ever,” he said in a calm, factual tone. With that, Jim walked away, disappearing into the crowd of mall patrons.
Sarah gazed at the spot where Jim had disappeared and thought of how wrong he was. Four years ago, to the day, Sarah was told she had brain cancer and had little chance of surviving. The doctor had settled her in a dreary hospital room where, day-to-day, all she did was wait. She would wait for chemo, for her parents to come with their tired, hollow faces and fake smiles to tell her everything was okay, and for the day she would eventually die. Her eyes pricked as she remembered the hours she spent curled up in her stiff hospital bed, crying because she knew that death would find her, because her beautiful hair was falling out in clumps, and because it seemed that God had forgotten her. “Why have you left me?” she would whisper through her tears.
Her condition had continued to worsen until she could no longer eat, and they had to keep her hydrated through an IV. Soon she was even unable to talk. One day, outside the gray door to her gloomy room, she could hear the doctor her telling her parents that she had about one week left to live. Her mother’s sobs seemed to echo in her ears as the realization that her short life was at an end struck her.
The next day, she did die but only for a few moments. In those fleeting seconds she could hear the machine go into a toneless bleep and doctors yelling. None of this concerned her, though, because a strange man whom she could not see was speaking to her. “I never abandoned you, Sarah; I was always in your heart. But you never prayed to me and asked me to heal you. But I will, for I have special plans for you. You will enlighten lives and save souls. You must go now, back to your parents.” Suddenly, she was back in her room, surrounded by doctors and nurses staring at her as though she was a miracle come to life. New tests showed the tumor was gone. That day she had told her parents about her vision and how she wanted to be a doctor who would praise God’s name everyday.
“Don’t let him bother you sweetie,” her mother said, pulling her from her thoughts. She was back to the mall where they were celebrating four years of good health after the diagnosis.
“I won’t Mom,” she said absent-mindedly, while she wondered if Jim would ever find God.
“Surry guys, I gutta go home,” Jim said in his slurred voice, for he was drunk after spending the night at the local bar with his friends.
“Awww,” they all whined in unison.
“Surry, but I got work tumorraw,” he apologized and staggered out of the bar into the cold winter air at 12:00 A.M.
After trying five times to get his key into the blurring, spinning door of his 1999 silver Mercury, he finally was able to unlock the door. Jim climbed inside and had some trouble starting the car. But soon he was swerving his way down the road as the black of the asphalt and the yellow and white lines all blended together. He didn’t realize he was going 85 miles per hour with no headlights on. He was also headed straight for a semi truck because he was on the wrong side of the road. Suddenly the little car became an explosion of glass and metal as it collided with the other vehicle. Jim hit his head on the windshield and then everything went black…
Suddenly, a white light pierced the darkness. Jim found himself running toward it. He kept running and running, but it never got any closer.
“You’ll never reach it!” a shrill, evil voice called out from somewhere in the darkness. The voice seemed to scratch his eardrums and he fell to his knees.
“Why? Why can’t I reach it?” Jim’s hysterical voice squealed.
“You didn’t believe in the Easter Bunny! That's why!” The voice was louder, and now the light seemed to be disappearing. He looked around frantically and found another light. Though this one was moving toward him and it seemed hot and red.
“You mean Jesus and the Bible and all of that is real?” he yelled as he watched the light grow closer.
This time a new voice answered. “Yes. It is all real, Jim.”
“No! You know that he never believed you! He belongs in hell!” the shrill voice echoed in the space, screeching to this new stranger.
“Be gone!” the mighty voice commanded, and suddenly the room was filled with such brilliance that Jim was blinded. All he could see the outline of a man standing in front of where he lay cowering on the ground.
“Where-where am I? And who-who are you?” he stuttered.
“I am the Almighty God, and you, my child, are dead.”
“Dead? No, I can’t be dead! You have to give me another chance!” he frantically pleaded.
“Calm yourself. It is not yet your time. I have plans for you. But only if you listen, will you hear them.”
“Oh, yes! Yes, God! Anything!” Jim replied with immense happiness.
“Before I leave, let me give you some advice Jim. No matter how many times you stray from the path I have set for you, you can always go back.”
With that, the light faded. Jim found himself lying in an ambulance, surrounded by EMT’s with sullen expressions.
“He’s alive!” one shouted. A flurry of activity started in the cramped space as they began to stitch him up and answer all of his questions.
Over the next few months, he lay in a hospital bed. Oddly enough, it was the same bed where Sarah had lain those few weeks. Of course he would never know it. He thought of how he needed to change his life and show God that he was going to follow His plan for him. He decided he would become a youth pastor for troubled teenagers.
Fifteen Years Later…
“So, Mr. Kane, I see here that you need your shoulder checked from the car accident you had fifteen years ago.” Dr. Sarah Lory said calmly.
“Yes, I do. Are you new? You must be, because all the other doctors call me Jim.”
“Jim?” she asked with a hint of wonder in her voice. “Well, that’s, um, an interesting name.”
“How so, doctor?” asked the aging Jim.
“It’s just that fifteen years ago today I was with my mother in a food court praying and a man named Jim came up to us.”
This comment made Jim stop and think. The girl! Could it be? The same girl he had mocked was standing before him a doctor!
“I remember that. I was that Jim. But that was when I was a different man…” And so they began to talk. Jim spoke of that winter night and of the road to becoming a pastor. Sarah spoke of the cancer she had once had and of the vision of God she had had when she died and came back to life.
“I never knew. I can’t believe I told you that you had never felt pain. I’m so sorry,” Jim remarked with remorse.
“I’m just happy that you found God in your heart like I did all those years ago,” Sarah said with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you. I never realized the beauty of it all until that night.”
They hugged and said their goodbyes, but they never truly left each other. Their stories linked them together and so did their love of their Lord. As one stitched a patient and the other preached a sermon to teenagers, they talked of their experiences and how God had made them into whom they were through His plan.