But for the Grace of God, There Go I

Eight years ago, I took a summer ministry class at Emory University in Atlanta. I was in the Emory University hospital one day when I saw James. He was wearing a thin hospital gown and had an IV attached to him. He was obviously very sick, with open sores on his body and a far-away look in his eyes.  He spoke to me in the elevator.

“Full-blown AIDS,” he said. “And I’m dying.”

James couldn’t have been older than 25. His face was covered with sores of deep pain. I looked into his soul and saw deeper wounds of mistakes made, consequences rendered, and hope lost. The only difference between James and I was that James’ sores were visible. Mine were hidden. His wounds were open and raw. Mine were deep down inside where nobody saw. I asked myself, “Why should his sores be seen and mine be invisible? It doesn’t seem right.”

B.J. Funk

B.J. Funk

By B.J. Funk –

But for the grace of God, there go I. 

I looked at his soul and saw my own. Sin existed in both of us. We were diseased through Adam.

But we were family through Jesus.

So I visited James when I could. No one else came. No family. No friends. I could not avoid God’s call to me. “Take up my cross and follow me into that man’s room.”

So, I dressed in the appropriate coverings, which made me look like an astronaut, and walked in and sat down on the bed next to James. I likely will never experience this again. But God showed me that this was His plan for me that week. “Go to the least of these. I will be with you. I will protect you.”

I saw in this man’s face a gratitude I don’t always see on Sunday mornings. He saw that Jesus cared about him, really cared enough about him to send someone to touch his last days with the love of Christ. God viewed him as a person of sacred worth.  I don’t know if I did it right or not. I just know I had to do it.

I often heard my mother quote, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” And it’s true. Grace covers each of us with a veil of “what might have been.” Grace moves us upward and away from the depths of despair and discord, away from the “might have been” of our lives. We see another’s pain and we know, “It might have been me.” If that doesn’t make a difference in us, we already might be dead.

Why should it be that God would grant me freedom from those wrong choices I have made?

Why am I spared and James is not? My sins of critical thoughts, wrong choices, and fearful compromise should pop out on my face in open sores for the world to see.

“Look at her. She carries a critical spirit. Look at her. She made a terrible decision.” Why am I spared, but for the grace — the unbelievable grace of God.

James’ pain with life had taken him through roads of bad choices and dumped him down by a sign that read “Dead End.” My pain with life had taken me down curvy and bumpy roads, filled with people who loved me and encouraged me, placing me by a sign that read, “Hold on. There is Hope for Tomorrow.” Why me and not him? But for the abundant grace of God. I cannot explain it. I can only say I have experienced it.

For that entire week, I saw James every time I entered the hospital. If I got in the elevator, there he was. Walking down the hall, I saw James at the other end. Moving outside to go to my apartment, I saw James in the car pick-up area, attached to his IV and smoking a cigarette. It was uncanny, if you are thinking of weird circumstances. It was holy, if you are thinking of the way God works.

James knew it and I knew it. God had brought us together. There was no other explanation for the many times we “happened” to be at the same place on different floors in the hospital.

The last time I saw him in the hall, he stopped, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re my angel.”

Angel. How absurd is that? It’s just that, because of Jesus, James and I were family. I had to show him that. I still don’t know if I did it right or not. I just know I had to do it.

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