How do you sum up a life, or even a portion of a person’s life, in a blog post? The answer is, you can’t. And you can’t even do justice to it in a blog page, either. It would take a whole book for me to really write what I have come to call “the Robert story,” but I will do my best to chronicle it here for you in a readable, condensed version.
I first met Robert exactly one month to the day from when I arrived in Ecuador. (He was known in his home of Belgium as “Bert,” but no one outside his country could pronounce it correctly with the guttural Flemish “r”, and he hated the English version of it, so when traveling, he used the name “Robert.”) My friends/upstairs neighbors, Bill & Elaine, kept telling me about their friend, Robert, who they had met almost two years earlier while staying for a season in Nicaragua. Some time after they had left there, Robert became ill. After being treated for a while with antibiotics for a suspected throat infection that was not getting better, he was finally advised to return to Belgium, where a series of tests revealed large cancerous tumors in three places in his throat and neck. The doctor’s words were, “We will do our best to save your life, but it does not look hopeful.” He then spent the greater part of that year (2013) going through surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, etc. During that time, he totally withdrew contact from all his former Nicaragua friends, except for one, who secretly kept the others (including Bill & Elaine) updated. When all treatments were over and he was pronounced “99.9999% cancer free,” he bought a plane ticket as quickly as he could and (against doctor’s recommendations) made his way to Ecuador. He arrived here frail and weak, but ready to reconnect with his friends and enjoy life again.
Our initial introduction was a simple, “Hello, nice to meet you,” as they walked past my open window, while I lay in my indoor hammock at my first rental (downstairs from where Bill & Elaine lived). They had just gone to meet Robert at the bus stop and were bringing him back to stay with them for a few days until he could find a place to rent (and he ended up being the first guest across the street at our friend Sam’s newly opened bed and breakfast, Jardin Suizo). Later they walked back by me still in my hammock and invited me to join them out for dinner, but I declined.
My next interaction was a few days later, when I joined the three of them to visit Bill & Elaine’s under-construction home out at Mirador San Jose. That was the day Robert first made me laugh (and it became one of many). Up until that point, I had seen him as a quiet, pensive person (which he very much could be until he let you get to know him). But at the bus stop, we elected to hire a truck to take us out there rather than wait for a bus, so the three of them rode in the back of the pickup, while I rode in the front (still too chicken for a back-of-the-truck ride, but I’ve had many since.) I was so impressed with how well this Ecuadorian guy drove – he was slow, careful, signaled when he passed, etc. Not at all the norm here! So when we arrived at MSJ, I asked (in my broken Spanish) if I could get his number, so we could use him again. I told him what a good driver he was and that we needed rides frequently. He seemed hesitant to give me his number and ended up giving me one off a printed receipt, but assured me it was his number (which was highly doubtful). Anyway, as I was transacting with him, Bill asked what I was doing and I said I was getting his phone number (which of course, they teased me about). After I finally got out and we were walking in the gate, I said I wanted his number because he was such an unusually good driver, and Robert said, (as flat and straight as one could) “That’s because I told him if he didn’t drive carefully, I would hurt him.” I said, “You did?!” and he said, “Yes,” as if to ask, “What’s so odd about that?” I busted out laughing! (He later told me, “Well, I didn’t go through all those cancer treatments and survive, only to die being thrown out of the back of a truck in Ecuador!”)
We walked around visiting the house and then caught another truck ride back into town – this one from a young guy from Canada who worked for his father installing windows in the houses out there. Again, them in the back and me in the front. I chatted with the guy during the 10 minute ride into town and told him I was building a house here as well. When he dropped us off, he handed me business cards for everyone. When I got out, I told everyone I had his business card, to which Bill responded, “There she is, getting phone numbers again!” We had a nice lunch on the beach and near the end, Bill said, “Well, I guess we can go home now – Mary’s got everyone’s phone number,” to which Robert dryly replied, “She hasn’t asked for mine yet.” And that was the end of that!
The next few weeks are a blur. I’m sure I had dinners upstairs with them, but I don’t remember. I do remember declining some invitations. I know Robert would walk across my patio to go upstairs to Bill and Elaine’s and sometimes I was out on it with Charcoal. He would try to pet her, saying “Cat’s love me,” and she wouldn’t let him. He mentioned that “they decided” I should come play cards with them – and those who know me know how well I respond to someone “deciding” what I should do! I spent a lot of time on the beach, and I remember a few times him coming down and wandering around looking at rocks while I was there. But we never said much and then he would leave. I honestly was just enjoying my respite from the intensity of my life over the previous two years and was mostly wanting to be alone to commune with God. Plus, I wanted them to enjoy reconnecting as friends, and I honestly felt like I would be an outsider, since they had a long history together. And lastly, deep down, I didn’t even want to allow any room for the potential that Elaine might get the idea to play matchmaker between us. So I pretty much just did my own thing and left them alone.
But then, on Christmas Eve eve, the power went out, there was nothing to do and Bill came down and sweetly said, “Mary, we would really like it if you would come join us for a card game.” Now THAT’s the way to ask me! 🙂 So I acquiesced and went upstairs. The three of them taught me how to play “31”, and of course, I got out first. But I quickly began to realize that Robert was (as I later called him) the “Jedi Master” of the game, so I looked over his shoulder to learn his strategy. When the power finally came back on, Bill made us hamburgers and fries, and that day I finally began to know and appreciate who Robert was (especially his sense of humor).
Other things happened along the way after that (chronicled in several of the blog posts below). But the turning point came on January 3. That morning I was awakened early to Robert drumming with sticks on my patio railing. What transpired afterwards (which also involved Bill, Elaine, Rick, Mesfin and Sam) was a realization that Robert was in a very bad state. For the greater part of two days, he was completely unaware of his actions (some of which were destructive). It was a very intense few days, and it was at that time that the Lord put a serious prayer burden on my heart for him. Because I could see past what was happening, a very lost and troubled soul, who needed much healing from the Great Physician. As it turned out, Robert had a long history of difficulty sleeping, (compounded by side effects from cancer treatments), so he had bought some sleeping pills from a pharmacy here (which you can readily do without prescription). Truly unaware of the dangers of combining that with a few beers, he ended up taking several without any recollection or awareness of it. He later read online that some people had committed suicide after taking those same pills! (I have an even deeper awareness of other things that happened that precipitated this event, but it is of no benefit to chronicle them here.) At one point, there was serious thought that Robert would be asked to leave, once he came to his senses after this episode. But once he sobered up, things settled down and for the most part, everything went back to “normal.”
Once that crisis passed, we had several nice days as a group – another of their friends showed up, we burned Robert’s bonfire and there were many more meals, card games, beach days, bonfires, etc. with everyone. And sometime during all that, I finally reached a conscious awareness that I felt something more than just friendship for Robert – and as I later told him, IT SCARED ME TO DEATH!!! Robert and I were exact opposites in just about every way – he was not at all the type of person I or my friends would have chosen for me to love (and not what I thought God would have chosen for me either). I honestly prayed to God in a panic, thinking that could not be a good thing, but felt Him calm me down and remind me of several “puzzle pieces” of things that had happened over the prior year that seemed to indicate this might be something from Him. So I finally settled down my panic and waited to see what would happen. One very special day was when we all went to Isla de la Plata (or “the island” as we came to refer to it) for a tour. It really felt like a very “warm & fuzzy” day, and when I asked Robert to send me some of his pictures for my blog, (including one of the two of us on the boat) I found them in my email inbox the next day, including the one on the boat that he had enlarged to be just headshots of the two of us – and at that point I thought, “Hmmm….” (He later told me, “All I knew was that I really wanted you to go to the island,” and we both agreed it was a very nice day for both of us.)
At this point, I need to fill you in a little bit on who Robert was. He and I had already had opportunities for me to learn some things about him, as well as hear some of his thoughts and beliefs, and although he was for the most part a “closed book,” he was also very much the epitome of the statement “still waters run deep.” Robert was a retired captain of the Belgium military for 20 years. He was a tested genius. He had worked for NATO and at one point, was offered a high level civilian job in the financial industry because of his ability to analyze and predict the stock market. He could remember every card that had been played in a card game. You get the idea – the man was highly intelligent. He was also very much a free spirit – he had traveled to 40 countries, some that most people would not ever consider going to – and this was for pleasure, not for the military! He was a true “Lonely Planet” kind of guy – just showing up in a country and figuring it all out as he went along. And most all of his travels were solo. He had never been married (although he had at least one serious, long-term relationship that I know about). He had a past history of skiing, scuba diving (with sharks!), skydiving, motorcycles and just about anything else he could do to find adventure. He loved nature – especially the ocean, stars and animals.
We talked about his beliefs and although he was raised Catholic, he considered himself agnostic. He was almost hostile towards “religion,” because he had only seen what he knew to be counterfeit (including the huge influx of Islam into Belgium). He was taught the theory of evolution in school as if it were fact. And one thing I began to learn from talking with him was just how many things we take for granted that we assume “everyone knows,” comes from our own cultural indoctrination from our home country. Robert honestly hated his country of Belgium for many reasons (including the weather and politics) – he called it a “small country, with small minds.” But there was so much he accepted as fact, simply because he had never heard anything that challenged it (until he met me 🙂 ). But I realized right away that this was a guy who I could not “rationalize” the gospel to. He had grown up hearing all the stories (as he later told me), but he hadn’t ever seen anything “real.” The night he brought up “religion,” (when we were alone at the end of a bonfire) he had read my blog for the first time a few days prior. He ranted and raved about the bad things he’d seen done in the name of religion – “Who are ‘they’ to tell me what to do?” After a long time of letting him vent, I finally said something that I know was given to me by the Holy Spirit at the time – afterwards I honestly thought, “Who said that?” and I could not recreate it for you if I tried. But it was something to the effect of agreeing with him about the bad things some people have done under the guise of religion, but you can only counterfeit something if there is a true original. I told him I had also grown up in a church that put a lot of focus on rules, but then I found out the real God is a God of love and relationship. At that point he got quiet and said nothing. After a long silence, I just commented how nice the fire was and that was the end of that topic. And it was after that, when I walked him to the gate to lock it behind him, that he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
Robert was also someone that I could tell lived with a lot of internal pain. Even aside from surviving the cancer, I could see (with my “discernment gift”) that there were deep woundings in his soul. What little he eventually shared about his family spoke volumes to me about where much of that pain originated from (as it does for most of us). I eventually came to understand his “role” in the family and how it affected him. I came to realize that he had a very sweet and gentle spirit, and those are some of the ones who get wounded the most. I also saw him struggle to make sense of the “deep” questions – questions that many people live their whole lives without really trying to answer. I knew he was wrestling with “What is the meaning of all this?” and “What do I matter?” He struggled understanding greed, war and in general why people hurt other people. He was trying to make sense of so many of the things that make no sense without believing in a good God and that there is an enemy who opposes Him. I saw Robert as someone who desperately wanted to believe – he just didn’t know it! He was definitely a “Book of Ecclesiastes” kind of guy. But the huge stumbling block of false religion he had seen in his life kept him from believing. I knew what he really needed to know was “Jesus with skin on.”
For a few days after the island trip we were what was referred to in the movie “Bambi” as “twitterpating.” At this point, we had already ended up alone at the end of a few bonfires and had a few serious talks where he had opened up and shared some things with me (about his family, the cancer, his beliefs, etc.) But then I asked him one evening if he would go with me the next morning to a nearby town to deal with some business regarding my property for my visa. I was having to be picked up and driven by a man I didn’t know and really didn’t want to have to go by myself. He agreed, but apparently had another sleepless night and told his friend the next morning to tell me he wasn’t going to go. After that he did a complete 180-degree change and that night at dinner wouldn’t even speak to me! I wanted to talk with him to let him know I wasn’t mad, but he would not give me a chance. It didn’t take me long to realize (and even more so later) that he was afraid I would be angry that he let me down, so before I could reject him, he was rejecting me. I finally sent him an email and told him I knew he was “dealing with trying to make sense of some major stuff that had happened” to him and I probably understood even better than he did what was going on. I told him I was not upset and that we could just be friends like before – I liked being around him and had no desire to make him feel uncomfortable. And then I told him, “I hope you do find what you are looking for (even if you aren’t sure what it is yet).” He never mentioned the email, but things slowly began to “thaw” after that and he finally started to interact with me again at our group dinners, etc. By the end of the week we were spending some time together again, just the two of us, but just as friends (sort of). He even pulled a practical joke on me by buying a fake snake and leaving it on my patio! Then he and a friend took off to travel for a few days.
After they left, we emailed a bit and then Robert called me one night late (after a few beers). He asked me if I was glad he had talked me into coming on the island trip (I almost didn’t go for fear I would get motion sickness on the boat). I told him I was and he said, “At least I did something right.” I told him he had done several things right, to which he replied, “I did?” We had a very sweet conversation where I said some nice things to him, until the minutes ran out on his phone. He had asked me to send him an email the next day. I sent one first after we hung up asking if he would remember the conversation, to which he responded, “Every single detail of it.” So I sent an email the next day. But apparently after the beers wore off, he got scared again, and I didn’t hear from him for many more days.
As it turned out, their few days trip turned into nearly two weeks! His friend later told me Robert kept saying, “Just one more day, just one more day…” and even tried to get him to go to Banos from there, even though they had left their colder weather clothes back in Cayo to come back for. The friend wanted to come back for a while, so they finally ended up back here. I suspected even then (and more so now) that Robert was scared of his feelings for me and was trying to run away.
During the week before they left and while they were gone, God began to put several things together for me. For one thing, I had had two friends who, in the year before I left, separately told me some things they “saw” about someone I would meet. One was that the person was tall, which was the first thing I noticed about Robert when I met him. But I then immediately dismissed it, because I did not think he fit the other “criteria” of what they had seen. But slowly, over that time, I saw several of the other things emerge. After he left to travel around, I shared with the friend, who had seen the most things, what was happening. She reminded me of some other things she had also “seen” that I had forgotten – including that we would be friends first and the other feelings would take us by surprise, and also that I would go to Ecuador, but then at some point I would “go across the ocean.” There are also many other prophecies and things that happened in the year leading up to my arrival (way too many to list) that the Lord laid out like puzzle pieces to indicate that this was something from Him. Not long after I began interceding for Robert, I started to encounter some serious “backlash warfare” in several ways. I realized even then what was happening, and it made me even more determined to pray. I kept hearing, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend,” and I felt like that was what I was doing – continuing to “stand in the gap” for Robert, despite taking “hits” as I interceded for him.
But the main thing that happened during that time, was that I felt God telling me that I would be with Robert at the end of his life, just as I was with my mother. And it’s not like I was thinking, “This guy has had cancer before, so he will get it again and I will be there for him.” My brain does not think like that. I knew he had had cancer, but at that point he had gotten so strong, vibrant and healthy and he wasn’t smoking any more – I wasn’t even thinking about it coming back. But that was what I “heard” and it was offered to me as an invitation, not a command, and I accepted it. I had no idea the timing of when that would happen. But when I shared with my friend that had seen so many things, she said, “Mary, your time with him will be short. I don’t know how long ‘short’ is, but it is not forever,” and I told her I already knew that.
However, all along this journey, I was constantly “checking” with God to make sure I wasn’t operating out of my own thoughts or emotions. But I have learned through this event, as well as many others since I’ve moved to Ecuador, that God is really an “out of the box” God, and the people He has put me with and the things I would have “presumed” He would want me to do, have turned out to be quite different than what I would have previously imagined. As I shared with one very faith-filled and trusted “sister” early on about Robert, I told her that I knew God “would not want me to have a relationship with him unless he was ‘saved’,” and she wisely said to me, “Don’t be so quick to presume what God will do – you don’t know, God might want to give him that gift before he dies.”
By the time they returned from their trip, I had prayed and told God I was just going to go about my business and see him when we all got together, but otherwise just leave Robert alone. I told God if He wanted something to happen, then fine, but I was not going to try to make anything happen. We all had dinner and played cards the night they returned, but it was just a normal group event. The next day I was having lunch in town with a friend, and Robert called to ask what I was doing and if I wanted to go to the beach with him – I was SHOCKED! He’d never been that forward with an invitation before. So when I returned, I met him on the beach, and we had a very nice afternoon. Each day I wondered what would happen and every morning gave it over to God, but each day brought more opportunities for sweet times together that got progressively nicer along the way. But then on Valentines Day, when we ended up going to a neighboring town together for me to get my teeth cleaned and him to do some errands, it was then that he told me he was checking on a bus to Guayaquil because he might have to go back home for a cancer check-up – and my heart sank! He was going into town to call his mother about it, but he said he still hadn’t decided (his original plan was to be here 6 months, but a reminder of the appointment came to his parent’s home in the mail, and his mother had contacted him that he needed to return). Of course, over the next few days we all encouraged him that he needed to go. So after one very sweet week together when things were finally starting to get “warm,” (and he even asked me on a lunch date just a few days before he left) he returned to Belgium. He left some things with me, saying he would be back, but I could see the concern in his eyes. At that point we had had several talks, and there were a few times that he had said, “Why did I survive? There must be some purpose…” to which I answered, “There is!” but I didn’t tell him what. I told him a few nights before he left that I was praying for him and he was genuinely touched. When I went to see him off at the bus stop I said, “Knowing you has been sweet. Take care of yourself and whether you believe it or not, God loves you!”
So when Robert left, my heart was so torn – it felt so premature! I was praying for him so much. One day I remember swimming in the ocean, crying and praying and I felt like God basically said to me, “If you accept this assignment, you will get to have more time and joy with him, but you will also feel even more pain when he is gone – do you still want to do this?”, and my answer was YES! Because also, what I felt God telling me, was that my role in Robert’s life was that he would know what REAL love is before he died.
One thing that I came to realize the morning that Robert left, was some things that had been healed in my heart at that point through my time with him. For one thing, I realized that the feelings I had for him were like “first love” – you know, that feeling in junior high when you are just happy to be near each other. There was no “sexuality” involved – our time together had been very sweet. I honestly thought I could have never felt that way again, but I felt God say to me, “See, I told you I was making all things new.” Also, I realized that although this was a man who had every reason to want to prove to himself that he was “still a man” (after the effects all the cancer treatments had on him), he did not in any way attempt to “use” me to do so. He treated me with more respect in that manner than any other man I have ever known. Other than a few sweet hugs and kisses on the cheek, nothing “physical” had transpired between us.
At one point, I struggled to make sense of the heart I had for him to know God and the love that I knew was from Him and the romantic feelings I had as well. I told God, “I don’t know where Your love for him ends and mine begins.” Although it didn’t feel wrong, I just could not believe that any “romantic” feelings I had for Robert could be from God. But then suddenly I had a picture of a target, and I felt God say, “Your love for him is squarely in the center of Mine,” like my love was the small center of the target and God’s enormous love was all around. It was then I accepted that everything I felt for Robert was from God.
So after undergoing several tests and waiting on their results, the report finally came about a month after he’d been home that the cancer had returned. I was heartbroken, but not totally surprised. A few days after he received the diagnosis and they were putting him back on chemo, I sent the following email:
I do care about and for you, and no amount of time, distance, illness or anything else will change that. Your response is, of course, your choice – but that won’t change it either.
I just wanted you to know.
I continued to stay in touch with him, sending emails regularly and praying for him daily. His correspondence with me was scarce, and I was sure he had just written me off as a “vacation fling” and was no longer interested, especially since he found out the cancer was back. Then one week about two months after he’d been back in Belgium, I didn’t send any emails because I was really busy. And then I prayed on the beach one morning and said, “God, I don’t want to keep doing this if this is not something you want – so I’m going to back off and let you show me for sure.” When I returned home, I had the first unsolicited email I’d had from him since he’d left! It wasn’t much – just a, “Hi, how are things going?” kind of email, but I knew it was a sign! A few weeks after that, he decided to break his longstanding Skype boycott (we all used to laugh at how adamant he was about refusing to use it) and sent an email asking us who wanted to Skype with him – but it was me he ended up doing so with first. Our initial one lasted an hour – I was shocked! After that, we Skyped a few more times, sent messages and emails and finally began talking about his potential return in June. He still wanted to go to Banos and was making plans to do so with his friend, but also planned to come visit in Cayo for a while. He also asked me to check into seeing if there were options for him to get chemo while he was here.
It just so happened that the week Robert was planning to arrive and stay in Guayaquil for several days, I was hiring a driver/translator to take me there to shop for appliances for the house I was building. I suggested to Robert before he came to Ecuador, that he might like a ride back to Cayo in my taxi, rather than having to take a bus. But he said he had wanted to stay in Guayaquil a few days beyond that time, to be there for the first time Ecuador played their World Cup game. So I told him that was fine, I would just see him in Cayo. But then he kept dropping some hints, and eventually we made some plans to have lunch the day I would be there (and I knew then something was up, because Robert NEVER wanted to make sure plans in advance!) He phoned me the day after he arrived and we agreed to meet and eat at his hotel (his suggestion) the next day as planned. My stomach and heart were doing somersaults that whole morning! I was so thrilled the moment I saw him – I put my hands on both his cheeks and said, “You are a sight for sore eyes!” He gave me a kiss on the cheek, and we sat at the bar (where he had been waiting) and had something to drink before lunch. And it was then, that I saw a look in his eyes I had never seen before. 🙂
The hotel restaurant was one of those all you can eat buffets of the most amazing food I’d seen since I arrived in Ecuador – and normally this girl can really eat! But I was so excited to see him, I could hardly put two bites of food in my mouth! I don’t remember that much about the conversation – just mostly about the look in his eyes and the fact that he asked if I would like to go to Banos with him. There is no reason that I should have expected him to ask that, but interestingly I had prayed to God beforehand that if he did, I would take that it was from Him and say yes – and so I did!
I had to tear myself away – I could have stayed the rest of the day, and I knew when he wasn’t in any hurry to rush off for his World Cup game that something really special was happening! But I needed to get back to finishing my shopping errand and get back to Cayo (it is a 3 hour trip each way!) We agreed to make further plans when he came to Cayo a few days later and also discussed me helping him with his visa and trying to get chemo here.
One thing I need to mention at this point that is a delicate, but important part of the story, is the “friend” that Robert had spent time with when he was here before. They had met a few years prior in Nicaragua (the same place he’d met Bill & Elaine). This “friend” is someone that I could see more and more was not a good influence on Robert. Unfortunately, there are “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in this world who are totally given over to themselves and are users and even predators of other people (see the list in 2 Timothy 3:1-6). This “friend” was one of those. I saw this with my “discernment gift” early on, but nobody else had seen it yet. As the time approached for Robert to return, I could see this “friend” gearing up to want to suck Robert into his “black hole” self-indulgent lifestyle. He was waiting for Robert to come back so he could have a “party buddy,” etc. At one point, I could “see” in the spirit realm the battle of light and darkness and I began to pray that Robert would be “drawn to God’s light in me and repulsed by the darkness in him.” God answered this prayer in a dramatic way! It began with this “friend” asking Robert to wire him some money during the worst of Robert’s post-chemo time. He drug himself out of bed and the house to do so. I won’t go into the “providential” details of how I learned about this transaction, but God always seems to let you know what you need to know. By the time I saw Robert in Guayaquil, he was already getting disgusted with this “friend’s” behavior and told me so – I never had to say a word! What then transpired was the “friend” continuing to irritate Robert by showing up in Guayaquil when Robert asked him not to come, asking for more money and then later, when Robert arrived in Cayo, barraging us both with pathetic texts and emails that so disgusted Robert, he wanted nothing more to do with the man! He never spoke to or saw him again (except to email a few times some time later to ask for repayment of the money – which the “friend” never did. Robert even said to me at one point, “Maybe he is waiting for me to die, so he doesn’t have to pay me back.”) This was a huge turn of events in “the story” as it removed Robert from this man’s negative influence and showed me, in a very dramatic way, how God was hearing and answering my prayers! (Since then, by the way, this man’s deeds have totally been exposed – now everyone sees clearly what kind of person he really is.)
And one more thing I need to insert here is that I knew at some point there would be a “Robert story” to write, so I had begun making little notes along the way as things happened. I even made a private page on my blog as a placeholder. It remained a blank page, simply titled “Robert’s Story.” When I opened it up to finally begin writing after his death, I noticed that the day I had created the page was the day in between our lunch in Guayaquil and when he came to Cayo!
When Robert arrived, we immediately set out the next day to deal with his visa and chemo. We got his visa application in and made an appointment to come back to the cancer hospital a few days later to see a doctor. When the time came to make that trip, he said I didn’t have to go with him because it would be boring, but I told him I wanted to go if he didn’t mind, because I enjoyed spending time with him no matter what we were doing. As we got on the bus for the second leg of our trip, he leaned back his seat to take a nap and said, “See you later,” to which I replied, “See you on the other side.” He laughed and said, “Yep, see you on the other side,” and immediately I felt that God said to me, “Eventually that will be the last thing you will hear him say to you.” I was suddenly filled with emotion and tears and looked out the window to hide it.
That day was disappointing for him, because the doctor at the public hospital would not agree to give his chemo without making him go through the whole battery of diagnostic tests again. He was very discouraged, but suppressed it well, and we had a very sweet time the rest of the day. And it was that night, after dinner, that we had our “discovery talk,” and he revealed his feelings (sort of). He told me that when he got back to Belgium, he kept having these feelings, and he couldn’t figure out what they were and thought, “What the hell happened back there?!” So he decided to come back here and see if he could figure out what he was feeling. He said all he knew was he really wanted to see me in Guayaquil, and when he did, he thought “She looks good!” When I asked him exactly what those feelings were that he was figuring out, he was evasive – I just had to read between the lines. But I knew, when he asked what we should call each other now (like “honey” or “sweetie” or something like that), that whatever those feelings were, they were good! 🙂
The next day we spent some time on the beach, and that is quite possibly the sweetest day in my memory for several reasons. For one thing, he asked me out of the blue, “Why are you so nice? Most people act like they are nice, but aren’t really. But you really are – you are the real thing.” I told him I knew the answer, but wasn’t sure he would believe it – that the truth was I wasn’t always like this, and Jesus changed me in ways I could never change myself, and I’m a totally different person now. And then I said, “But you are right about one thing – it is real,” to which he replied, “Oh, I know it is – I can tell!” We then had a discussion about me being an alien (because I’m not in the U.S. anymore). I’ve honestly felt that way for some time – that this world is not my home. And then Robert said, “I’m an alien too.” I said, “No you aren’t,” and he said, ‘’Yes I am,” and when I asked how, he said, “Because I don’t understand the world and the world doesn’t understand me.” It was then I knew he really did understand, and I said, “You really ARE an alien!” and he just smiled and nodded.
I then told him he had not asked the other question – he had asked, “Why are you so nice?” but not, “Why are you so nice to ME?” I was all prepared to tell him the story of how I knew about someone before I came to Ecuador and that someone was him. That God loved him so much that he would spare his life from cancer the first time and bring him here for us to meet, etc. But he wouldn’t give me the chance to tell him – he just said, “No, not right now,” and so I said, “OK, just let me know when you want me to tell you.” Then he got up to walk to the water, and I followed him. He bent down, picked something up, and said, “I found something,” but wouldn’t show me what it was right away. He walked past me, washed it off in the water and then proudly showed it to me – a small, gray rock shaped like a heart! When I exclaimed it was a heart, he said, “It was just laying at my feet!” I told him that was a sign to him, but he insisted that he wanted me to keep it, so I said, “OK, but as long as you know it was for YOU.” I told him I would put it beside my bed (and it is still there to this day). Then when we went back up to get our things to leave, he leaned over to give me a kiss, and I turned to offer my cheek as usual (he had already told me in Guayaquil he was under strict doctor’s orders for no kissing), but he moved around and kissed me on the lips – and I melted! I told him as much as I wanted him to, he wasn’t supposed to do that, and he said, “I know – you might have just killed me!” and then he kissed me again! 🙂
The rest of the very sweet time he was here was spent enjoying World Cup games (he was a big soccer fan anyway, but especially with Belgium in the games), meals out, some I cooked for him (including a special birthday dinner) and more precious moments together. Of course, he had to sleep a lot and had some times when he didn’t feel totally great. But overall, I think that few weeks are my sweetest memories with him (he also wasn’t on major pain medicine at that point – only Tylenol – and didn’t have that much to drink). But I know the looming issue of chemo was always in the back of his mind. I tried to encourage him that there were other options to explore for chemo here (going to a private hospital instead of public), but in the end he decided he should go back and have one more treatment in Belgium, then return in two more weeks with more of his medical files in hand, for us to go whale watching and to Banos. When I went with him to the nearby town where he would catch the bus to Guayaquil, he said, “Now that I know you will be waiting for me, I can come back,” to which I replied, “I was always waiting for you,” and he said, “I know, but I didn’t know it,” (and I wondered how he could not?!)
While he was gone, we stayed in touch nearly every day. We continued to share in the World Cup excitement long distance and worked through some tense moments trying to get his visa squared away for his return. I was practically counting the minutes over those two weeks he was gone – I could not wait for him to get back. But I hired a driver, as we had agreed, and went to pick him up at the airport – and the minute I saw him I knew something wasn’t right. I thought it was just travel weariness (which is totally to be expected). But over the next few days, I could tell something was very wrong. He was “edgy” and “snappy” and not at all the Robert I’d known two weeks earlier or even prior to that. I knew that the sickness, the chemo, the new (and much more powerful) pain medicine could all be having effects. So I just hung in there. But he kept going down hill and after just a few days, got more and more angry and out of it. At one point he blew up at me and I had no idea what in the world was going on in his head. The next day we were going whale watching and he would hardly speak to me the whole day. Not only that, but he slept through most of it! Finally that night, I sent an email and told him I was very worried about what was happening to him, and I wasn’t sure why he didn’t like my company any more, but obviously we could not go to Banos together like that. He responded that he would make his own plans. The next day my landlady told me he was leaving the following day (he had rented the upstairs apartment at the place I was staying) so I texted that night to ask if I could come say goodbye. His response was angry and irrational, and he refused to let me see him and in essence told me to leave him alone forever – I was heartbroken! Not only that, but I was so concerned for his physical, mental and emotional well being – I feared for his life for many reasons! I began desperately praying and fasting for him – I felt like I could literally see the darkness closing in on him! That whole week we had had this horrible, cloudy, gray weather that just kept getting more and more gross, and the day after he left was so windy and ominous it was almost evil (and that was the day that Roxy, the kitten at the place I was renting, was killed). I had begun fasting on Thursday, the day I found out he was leaving. The day he left, I asked God how long I should fast, and I felt He told me that I was in the place the disciples were between the crucifixion and the resurrection. He was asking me, “Can you still pray in faith, believing what I told you, even when darkness and death are all that you can see?” I felt Him tell me to fast each week, Thursday through Saturday, and break it each Sunday with the Lord’s Supper. The very first Sunday, something very special happened…
My landlady had told me the day Robert left that he had left a few small things behind. Knowing what they were, I told her I thought he did that intentionally (and he confirmed to me later that was true), but I told her I would take them and keep them if she wanted me to and would return them to him if I ever saw him again. That Sunday morning, I went to the beach to pray. While I was there, the sun finally broke through the clouds and came out. It felt like God was trying to encourage me to not give up hope. When I returned home, my landlady had put Robert’s things on my patio table, but in addition to the two “nothing” items she had mentioned, were his military dog tags! I was so shocked, knowing how important they were to him and how he wore them wherever he was when he traveled – which told me how “out of it” he was when he left. I asked God what to do, knowing he didn’t want to hear from me again, and I felt God say, “Just keep them – you will see him again.” I questioned that, thinking about how mad he might be if he found out later I had them all the time, but again I heard, “Just keep them.” So I put them around my neck, wore them every single day and held them when I prayed for him. And it gave me hope that, despite how dark everything looked at the moment, I would see him again someday.
Of special significance here is the story in the Bible that Jesus tells of the “Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32). When Robert left for Banos and I was so devastated and afraid for what might happen to him, I felt that God told me I was getting to feel His heart (as He represents the father in the story) for the “prodigal.” I thought about how when the son left, the father had no idea what would happen to him, if he would die, or ever see him again – and how every day the father waited and hoped he would return. I shared that with a friend the day after Robert left, and she told me she felt like there would be something for me to give Robert when I saw him again (just like the father did for the son). The next day is when I found out about the dog tags! Not only that, but there was a pair of sandals that Robert really liked, but left behind the first time because he had gotten tar on them. He actually said to throw them away, but I intended to clean them up, and then thought I did throw them away when I had to move. When he came in June, he forgot to bring sandals, and I told him I was sorry that I got rid of the other pair, but he said he didn’t care. However, the week after he left for Banos, I found them in a sack in a cupboard! I spent two days cleaning them up in faith that I would see him to give them to him again. And the third thing I had found in the time he was gone between June and July was a heart shaped rock to give him. It was laying at my feet on the beach one day and was much bigger than his and a beautiful yellow color. I wanted to give it to him when he returned in July, but never had the chance. So just like the father in the story, I had three things to give Robert if I ever saw him again.
I kept fasting and praying for a whole month (one of the main prayers being that God would “deliver him from the plans and schemes of the enemy to destroy him before he could come to know God.”) One morning in particular as I was praying, I was on the beach and had an overwhelming sense that there was a huge and critical battle going on, and I spoke out loud, calling out to Robert to “choose life.” Then, about the middle of August, I felt God prompting me to email Robert. I was really afraid to, knowing how angry he had been, and I had told him I would respect his wishes and leave him alone (and I knew he had told Bill and Elaine not to tell me anything about him, which they didn’t). But finally, after several days of wrestling, I sent a simple email that said, “FYI – I do still care and hope you are OK.” I awoke to see his reply the next morning, and although it was brief, it was nice (and he sent the whale pictures he had said he would but hadn’t). So I at least knew he was not angry anymore, although when I replied back, he did not respond. This was the day I would have started another weekly fast, but I felt the Lord showing me that breakthrough had happened, and I didn’t need to fast any more.
I really had every intention of still leaving him alone after that, but God would not let up on me and kept prompting me to say some things to him. So several weeks later, I sent this email:
I don’t know if you will read this, but there are some things that I really hoped to say to you in person that now it appears I will not have the chance and I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t say them to you.
There really is so much about you I do understand (maybe even more than you do) – your “alien” status and the questions in your heart. There really is a God out there who loves you – so much so, that He told me about you nearly a year before we met. I knew some things about someone that I would meet, but I didn’t know who it was and did not know it was you until after I started having feelings for you (and as I told you, at first that terrified me). Then slowly, I learned some things about you and put the puzzle pieces together that you were the one. God loves you so much that He spared your life from cancer the first time and brought you to Ecuador to see your friends at the same time as me. There are so many ironic circumstances of how things and timing lined up that I don’t have time to write about, but suffice it to say, He went to great lengths to orchestrate our meeting.
Bert, there really are answers to so many of your questions – so many of the things you know that you think contradict God’s existence actually fall right in line with the truth. The moon being part of the earth, time speeding up, the universe expanding – I can tell you how these and so many other things actually fit into believing His word, not disproving it. It is true – we don’t have all the answers to every question – YET – that is what makes Him God and us not and it is part of having faith. But there are so many things that always existed that we have only found the answers to in the last few hundred years that prove what those who had faith knew all along. It actually takes a lot more faith NOT to believe in Him than to believe in Him!
But the biggest answer is that in this big, vast universe you DO matter! There is a God who loves you so much and has been trying to tell you that for so long – I know because He put a portion of that love in my heart for you. He even used part of His creation that you love so much to try to tell you (a rock shaped like a heart laying at your feet) when you didn’t want to hear it from me.
But there is also one who fights to keep you from knowing that – there is a war going on and there is an enemy of God who desperately wants to destroy you before you can come to know Him. I know you have seen a lot of “counterfeit faith” in your life and the enemy uses that to try to keep people from knowing the real God. But you can only counterfeit something if there is a true original. You yourself said you saw something in me that was “real” and I told you what it was. You think that something isn’t real unless you can experience it, but I am here to tell you that I have experienced the realness of God in my life in so many ways. When you come to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8) you no longer want anything but the real thing!
There is so much more I wish I could say to you, but no matter what, I will always remember you and our time together as sweet. Please know that I am here for you as your friend, if you want one, and there is no such thing as too late.
I did not get a response (which is what I would have expected), but I knew I had told him what I needed to say. I kept hoping, praying and believing. During this time Elaine wasn’t hearing from him either. I encouraged her to continue to reach out to him, knowing he might at least respond to her. Finally, about 3 weeks after I had sent that email, Elaine contacted me very upset that he was back in Belgium and just “prolonging the inevitable.” I asked her to tell me if those were Robert’s own words. (This was all transpiring while my friends were here for my birthday.) What happened over the next few days was a crazy “mix up” of her trying to forward his email to me, but instead sending it back to him and then asking me if I got her email. It took us several days to match up and figure out what happened. (During that time, the last morning my friend Deanna was here, we had a special prayer time for Robert on the beach where he and I had spent so much time together. Deanna had followed and prayed for “the Robert story” since the very beginning, and it was amazing the warfare she and her friend encountered the few days before leaving to come visit me. I knew it meant something big would happen with them being here, and I believe there was a lot of power in their “boots on the ground” help to bring “2 or 3 gathered in Jesus’ name” on behalf of Robert.) When Elaine realized what she had done and said in the email, she was horrified! But she had said she was sending it to me “against Robert’s wishes, not to disrespect him” but because she “knew how much I loved him.” She also said she kept “hoping God would heal him and make him believe.” I told her I believed everything happens for a reason and that Robert needed to hear the things she had said.
The next day as I walked to the beach to pray, suddenly the tears started to flow. I began desperately praying and crying out to God in “travail” in what Robert came to call “my funny language” (more on that later). As I was sobbing and praying I suddenly heard, “Go in peace, your request has been granted.” I wasn’t exactly sure just what that request was, but I immediately had peace that there was some kind of breakthrough.
The next few mornings brought increased feelings of power and breakthrough in my prayers. And on that third day, as I was doing something on my computer, I saw an email come through on my iPad and suddenly realized it was from Robert!!! So after over two months of basically nothing from him since he left for Banos, he finally reached out! He included Elaine too, but pretty much told about his “status” as he had to her in the email that she sent back to him. In it he said that it did not look like he would make it back to Ecuador; that “he guessed up there somewhere they’d like to come get him” because “a cure is impossible” and “need a miracle here, just so you know.” So when I responded to him, one of the things I said was, “What about a trip to Belgium for me?” I did not hear anything else for a few days, so I then sent the following email:
I know that, based on all your prior experiences in life, you really just cannot understand me. But it is actually very simple – God REALLY wants you to know how much He loves you, so He sent me. The love He has put inside of me is beyond our human capacity to love. The thing that stumps people most about believing in or understanding God is that He gave us free will. But you cannot have real love without free will. His love is so amazing and He has gone to great lengths to convey it to us, but still gives us the choice to reject Him and walk away, all the while still loving us.
We both love you and are offering you an incredible gift, but as always is the case, it is your choice whether or not you accept it.
He responded just a few hours later and among other things, said he would like to “come to Ecuador and talk about this” with me, but based on his current status it was not possible. But his PS at the bottom said, “Belgium is welcome for you!” To which I then replied, “Hold on, I’ll be there as soon as I can make the arrangements,” and a few hours later I sent him an airline itinerary I had put on hold. His response was, “Wow, you are fast!” to which I answered, “No time to waste!” What then transpired over the next few days and weeks was him proposing that we meet in Spain and then eventually coming up with, “What about a cruise?” I questioned how he could do that if he couldn’t do a trip to Ecuador, but told him I would go wherever and do whatever, just as long as I could see him again. This well-traveled man had actually never experienced a cruise before. Not only that, but he had always wanted to go to the island of St. Maarten, since it is half Dutch and half French (which is basically the case in Belgium) and he spoke both languages. So less than 3 weeks from the time I received the “reconnecting” email from him, we were meeting in Miami for a cruise! And I now realize that my “request that was granted” was to have one more chance to show him what REAL love is.
Now I have to say at this point, that all sounds really glamorous and romantic, but it was not at all the case. At first, when the invitation was to come to Belgium, it was a big leap of faith to even think about how I would navigate all that, but I was trusting that if God was opening the door again for me to share His love, He would work it all out. I shared with several “prayer sisters” what was happening, and they were aware and praying all along the way. When I first heard the cruise option, I questioned God if it was really from Him. Once again, it did not fit the “box” of how I thought He would operate. But I quickly got several confirmations, realizing that there was much wisdom in this over other options. For one thing, if Robert were to have an “episode” similar to what happened in January or July, I would be in safe surroundings, where I would not be on my own, unable to speak the language (like in Spain) or provide for basic needs, like food. Also, if he were to need urgent medical care, that would be easily available as well. And lastly, it was perfect timing, as I was really in need of a stateside shopping visit for many items for my home that either I cannot get here or are poor quality and much more expensive (like pots and pans). I also have a specific couple that is my “prayer covering” and she confirmed that when it first looked like I was going to Spain, her husband said, “I do not feel good – that is not right,” but once she told him about the cruise, he said yes, he had peace about it.
However, I had already been on several other cruises, including the Caribbean, many years ago; and of all the vacations I’ve ever been on (and there have been many) that was absolutely the LAST one I would ever care to repeat! That trip was truly a sacrifice for me in so many ways. It was not at all how I would have chosen to spend that money – especially when I was moving into a house and had so many expenses beyond what I’d expected (not the least of which was my builder going bankrupt). Not to mention, I missed almost two weeks of working income at one of our busiest times of year. I was also within less than a month of having to move out of my rental and into my house – so I was in the final throes of everything being completed – just about the worst timing imaginable to leave! When he threw out the suggestion to go, I knew I had the ability to put it all together (I like to say I was a travel agent in my former life, but what that really means is that my strong organizational and researching skills had enabled me to plan some amazing vacations for myself and my former husband). However, normally I would plan that kind of trip in a minimum of 3 months, but from the day he made the suggestion, I literally had 9 days to do all my research and make everything happen!!! As one friend said, planning that trip took 5 years off my life! That included thinking ahead and ordering things to be sent to my Miami hotel that I needed (including a T-Mobile SIM card so I would have phone service and cell data for GPS). I had to rent a car and drive for the first time in a year in a huge city I had never been to (and those who know me know how scared I was to drive in unfamiliar parts of the city I’d lived in my whole life!) I had to find a hotel and figure out where I would be able to shop for all the things I needed. The planning details were immense (not to mention, making my first trip outside of Ecuador, riding a bus 3 hours to Guayaquil for the first time, staying overnight in a hotel there and getting to and through the airport by myself). Oh, and I worked almost every day of the week that I was preparing to leave! In addition, I felt the stakes were SO HIGH for this one more opportunity to see and minister God’s love to this man. Just ask my friends who knew about this in advance – I honestly saw this as an assignment and had no thought that it would be something I could actually enjoy. (And I have to say, other than the food, the cruise part I hated for so many reasons I won’t bother recounting – the only enjoyment I had in it was getting to be with him).
I had several friends who were truly “praying me through” all along the way. I was desperately sending text and email status updates for them to pray the whole time. One thing I knew in advance that I would need to do for him was change the bandage on his neck (which was in too awkward a place for him to reach). I prepared myself for this – by that time the tumor was an open wound hole, two inches in diameter! I think he was amazed that I was not repulsed by it. Not only that, but he had already warned me that it was inevitable that I would hurt him when I changed the bandage (and that he would yell, but not to take it personally). I told him I didn’t want to hurt him, but he said, “It doesn’t matter, you will – everyone does.” But the first time I did it, I was so gentle he actually dozed off! And then he was so proud that I had done the bandage so perfectly and not hurt him, that he took a picture of it and sent it to his mother! 🙂 (And I changed it every day for the rest of the trip, and never hurt him one time.)
Of course he needed to sleep a lot, especially with the major pain medicine he was on (and it should go without saying that we had separate rooms). But he really enjoyed himself, and I really enjoyed watching him do so – the trip was truly a “labor of love” for me. And even as I was planning and executing it, I felt that God was once again teaching me about how much He has sacrificed for us that we cannot fully know or appreciate. I knew that Robert had no real clue or appreciation for the sacrifices I was making to do that trip. He knew there were some, but I’m sure he thought it was a fun vacation for me too. However, although God blessed me in numerous ways in response to what I was doing, my sole purpose of the trip was to display God’s sacrificial love. And honestly, for several reasons, it was another terrifying “step out of the boat” experience for me. There was so much that could have gone wrong in so many ways and so much at stake – I really had to make the choice of “love over fear“.
One thing I had prayed during those two desperate months was that, since I was feeling the heartache of the father of the lost son, that I would be able to feel the joy he felt when he saw his son again too – and that is exactly what I felt when I saw Robert in Miami – utter and complete JOY! As soon as I arrived at the hotel and got to his room, I pulled the dog tags out from around my neck and said, “I think you lost something.” The look on his face was total shock – he said he didn’t even realize that he had left them or didn’t have them anymore! I told him how important they had been to give me hope that I would see him again and that I wore them every day and held them as I prayed for him. He couldn’t wear them any more because of the tumor, and he said a few times during the trip, “Maybe you should keep them.” But I told him they were important to him, and he should have them. (However, somehow I knew they would come back to me some day – and after he died and I told his brother the story, he offered to send them to me and did!)
During the cruise, Robert shared with me what happened when he left for Banos. He told me even while he was here, that he was afraid to go to sleep, because he was afraid he wouldn’t wake up. As I had already suspected, the doctors had given him bad news before he returned – the tumor was growing rapidly and would eventually burst his carotid artery and he would bleed to death. He was taking stronger pain pills and drinking many, many beers, and all of that contributed to his behavior before he left. He became desperately ill in Banos (from all the aforementioned, in addition to altitude sickness and the tumor beginning to bleed), missed his return flight home and told me he even considered taking all of his pills at once and that he’d sent his parents a goodbye email. I told him several times how desperately I prayed for him during that time and he was still here! I am certain now when I called out to him on the beach to “choose life” it was at that very critical time. When his parents received the email, they got his brother involved and began a frantic “rescue effort” to have him emergency repatriated back to Belgium. After he returned to Belgium, the doctors confirmed he was close to death and as a last ditch effort, threw a “triple cocktail” chemo at him and a relatively new “protein treatment” drug. At the point that he initially sent the emails to Elaine and me, things were looking pretty bleak for him. But shortly after the time of our reconnecting, the doctors gave him the news that the protein treatment was “miraculously” working (it only helps 17% of the people) and the tumor growth had been halted and had even started to shrink (and I am confident that was a result of the “request that was granted.”) That was what allowed him to even be able to consider making another trip. (One interesting side note to add – Robert told me the hotel he stayed in for a month in Banos had just opened a few days prior, and he had a very nice room and place to stay, although he was sick the whole time and expected to die there. His brother later told me when he was trying to track down where Robert was, he looked it up online, and the name of the hotel was “Destiny”!)
Our time together on the cruise will always be very sweet memories for me. St. Maarten was the highlight destination for him and the one where we took an excursion tour. The itinerary also included St. Thomas (where I had been a few other times) and Nassau. Nothing we did on any of the islands was super exciting – we mostly just walked around a bit and enjoyed the scenery (and of course, he had to visit the Hard Rock Cafe on two of them; and in the one on St. Maarten, I actually got to have a Dr. Pepper!) On the cruise, we mainly enjoyed our meals, (as he later told Elaine, “At the end of one, we would be planning the next one!”) but also saw a few shows and he indulged in playing his favorite number “21” on the roulette wheel a couple of times. Other than that, there was a lot of times of him sleeping and me praying. And I have to say again, he was a perfect gentleman – he never even held my hand! Other than a few goodnight kisses on the cheek from him and a few scratches on his back from me, our affection for each other was felt, but not physical.
Just as in previous times together, most of the time spent on the cruise I could only “sow seeds” and be “salt and light.” Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” This is how I had to be with Robert. As he said, “Religion is not my favorite topic.” There were so many stumbling blocks to belief for him, including the “science” he learned and the false religion he was surrounded by. At one point, near the end of the cruise, it appeared God opened a door and I began to share some things with him, but it was a very small opening, and he finally said, “Mary, I don’t understand – you are saying things I’ve never even heard before.” He just could not fathom that what he had been taught as “scientific fact” (evolution) was not true or wrap his mind around a God of love, grace and relationship.
As we approached the final 24 hours of the trip, I desperately felt there was something that still needed to be said or done. I was frantically praying and asking friends to pray that God would create the “atmosphere” to finish the work that He wanted me to do. After we disembarked the ship, he was staying for two more days in Miami, but my flight returned home later that day. We went straight to his hotel and let them know he would like to check in early, then went to a restaurant to just hang out, get something to drink and use the internet. After several hours in the very uninspiring environment of South Beach, Robert was beginning to get drowsy (a combination of our early rising and his pain medicine). I began to wonder if there would be any opportunity for anything meaningful to be said, and I was silently begging God and texting friends, asking them to pray for one more open door.
After eating some lunch, we headed back to his hotel at 1:00 p.m. to see if he could check in, and they confirmed his room was ready (thank you God!) I was needing to catch my cab at 2:00 p.m. As we were getting him settled into his room, he was lamenting that I would be leaving and he would be left alone, and I told him he wouldn’t be alone, that Jesus was always with him. I then asked him if I could pray for him. He told me I could, but silently and not out loud. So I laid down beside him and put one hand on his chest and the other on his cheek (near the tumor) and began to pray silently. At one point, I tapped his chest and said, “You need healing in here (meaning his heart) as much or more than you need healing here (pointing to the tumor).” What I saw from the very beginning was that Robert had deep pain in his heart. I realized the ways it came to him from early on and how it affected him. And as I said before, I also knew that he had a very sweet, gentle soul and spirit – and those are often the ones whose wounds are so very deep. There were lots of ways Robert was good at covering his pain to others and even himself, but I could see it.
At one point as I was praying, I remember in my head speaking to his spirit and calling it to attention. I don’t remember what I said in my mind after that, but that is not something I’ve ever done before or would have thought to do on my own. It was also at that time of praying for him, that Robert heard what he called “my funny language.” I did not intend for him to and thought he did not. He had fallen asleep (and he can sleep very deeply!) while I was silently praying for him. I felt I had prayed everything I could think of and decided I needed to pray in my “prayer language.” So I began to pray in the quietest whisper imaginable as he slept. When it was finally time for me to get my taxi to the airport, I woke him up and told him it was time for me to go. As he stirred and stretched, without opening his eyes, he said, “What was that language you were speaking to me?” I was shocked and said, “You heard that?!” He smiled, nodded, and still half asleep asked, “What was it?” I explained that it was a gift that allows you to pray in a language you never learned or know, in order to allow God’s Spirit to pray through you what He knows is needed that you don’t. I found it very interesting that this man who spoke something like five languages fluently and several others somewhat and who knew that I butcher any other language I try to speak except English, recognized that I was speaking another language! I later realized that God knew that what Robert needed to hear was something beyond anything “intellectual” that I could have said. So God allowed him to be in a “sleep state” and caused me to call his spirit to attention, so that the Holy Spirit could speak to his spirit directly. I am confident that whatever happened in that exchange is far beyond anything I will understand on this side, but something did happen. It definitely had an effect on him – he was almost “ethereal” as he walked me downstairs to say goodbye. And later he asked me about it again in an email and again a few times later when we talked on Skype. (Which shows why 1 Corinthians 14:22 says, “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers…”)
It was also just before leaving his room that I verbally told him I loved him (and honestly, now that I think about it, that would have been the only time he heard it from me any way besides in writing). It was not something that I had planned, but literally came from somewhere deep in the depths of my being. I remember letting out a groan and saying, “Oh Bert, I love you so much! I really hope you will choose love and life because it is SO worth it!” When we said goodbye on the street beside my cab, I hugged him and out loud begged God over and over, “Please don’t let it be the last time” that I would see him.
The last significant thing from the cruise was the heart rock I gave him. I had brought both the one he gave me and the one I had for him and showed him how the two were shaped exactly the same – but mine was HUGE compared to his. I won’t go into all the details of the discussions about the rocks during the week, but suffice it to say I packed his big rock in his luggage at the end, and he said, “It will have a special place in Belgium.” When he returned home, he sent me a picture of it on his pillow and the following poem. When I responded that it was so beautiful that I was speechless, he said, “You think so? It came out of my brain in one single wave,” to which I answered, “I knew you had it in you!”:
The rock is close to me
When I go to sleep
It protects me in the dark night
Chasing evil spirits away
It warms me in the cold night …
Thinking of better places
It makes my inner smile
Because of true feelings around
(What I loved most about this poem, is that I know that this rock only represents the true “Rock”, which is Jesus Christ! – 1 Corinthians 10:4)
After the cruise, we held onto the hope that he would return to Ecuador for another visit. His plan was to come in December, but his mother talked him into staying for Christmas (and he hated Christmas, but I won’t go into all the reasons why). He acquiesced and decided to come in January. But that is when I ended up learning what I believe has been the hardest lesson of my life. It is not something I can even begin to unpack for you, but it is best expressed in my Hard Lessons post. In essence, I had come to believe (and still do) that God had showed me many other things and given me faith for, and hope in, what He would do for Robert, for me and for us. But just before he planned to return to Ecuador in January, I allowed “flesh” to creep into my life. We tend to think “flesh” is doing bad things, but “flesh” is really anything that, although may be “permissible” is not “beneficial” for us (1 Corinthians 10:23) – ways that we choose our own self-gratification verses choosing God. And what I came to see through that time, was that the stakes are so high for what we can lose when we make that choice. Analyzing it in hindsight has been similar to what I think Adam and Eve must have felt when they reviewed the path of their thoughts that turned into actions that brought on devastating results for them. In short, God showed me (in the gentlest way possible) how my choices to “feed my flesh” left me “weak in Spirit” for a time and during that time, my prayers were hindered and it gave the enemy access to attack Robert. Literally the day before he would have booked his flight to come here just 3 days later, he began having new and bad side effects and then later became sick with the flu, which caused him to miss the between chemo window to travel. By the next time the opportunity would have come around, he received word from the doctors that the tumor was growing again and he soon began to have increased pain and nerve damage in his face.
At first I was surprised and disappointed that we were so close to him returning and then he didn’t. Of course, all along I’ve asked for only God’s will in this journey, but it really felt like he was supposed to come back here and that, as I had been praying, it would be “a time of harvest.” When I realized the window was closing in January, I told God it felt much like when I had seen Him working and had such hope and light last June, but then the enemy came in like a flood in July and snatched away any more chances for me to share with Robert. I asked God why it seemed that the enemy was once again gaining ground – and it was then, that He gently reminded me of the choices I had made the previous week.
I can really only speculate about all that might have happened on his trip here that was lost – but suffice it to say, I believe it was MUCH! In the aftermath of his death, this was also a loss I had to grieve and it was a big one. (And for those who have a hard time accepting these concepts into their theology, just talk with Adam, Eve and Moses, to name a few, and ask how much they lost from just a “little deviation.”) I checked in with God on this many times, asking for Him to correct me if my belief was wrong, but He never did. Instead, what He left me with was acceptance of what it was (a short, but sweet time together) and hope in what is still to come (seeing Robert again) and also an incredible sober-mindedness to realize that great casualties can be suffered from just a momentary lack of focus (as I said before, This Is War).
Even before he was to return in January, Robert had already asked if I would come to Belgium for his birthday (June 21st – the day this page is being published). I agreed, but had told him several times since then “the offer is always on the table” for me to come sooner if he needed me to, and he assured me he would “use the offer when it is needed.” After he learned in mid-February that the tumor was growing again, things began progressing very fast. It was not long before I noticed in a FaceTime conversation that the left side of his face began to sag as if he’d had a stroke. I did not let him know that I saw that, and for a while I think he thought it wasn’t noticeable. But he had told me that the tumor was affecting his vocal cords and vision. We continued to correspond for another month, and during that time I reiterated the offer to come. But he kept saying “June is better” and “maybe I’ll make it back to Ecuador first.” However, after a fun FaceTime card game at Bill & Elaine’s one Sunday in mid-March, I suddenly stopped hearing from him. After several days, I sent an email begging him to respond and finally received a reply that said he was “having new side effects that he didn’t like and didn’t want to discuss” and “please don’t worry so fast!!!!” After a few more days, I sent the following email:
I’m leaving you alone, because I am gathering that is what you want. But I trust by now you know I am always thinking of you and am here if you ever want or need me.
I know you really can’t fully understand or accept this, but I love you Bert, and nothing will ever change that.
That was the last of those kind of emails I sent. Over the next several weeks, I sent a few eCards and an Easter email, but got no response and just tried to give him his space. Honestly, as I prayed for him, I just kept hearing God say, “Just leave Him in my hands now.” For a long time when I prayed for him, I’d told God I was laying Robert at His feet, just as the friends of the paralytic did for him (Luke 5:17-26). I had done my part by bringing Robert to Jesus – now it was time for me to let Him do the rest.
Just a few days before he died, I had been thinking about how long it had been since I’d heard the little tune that played on my iPad when he sent me a message. I almost couldn’t remember what it sounded like and was longing to hear it again. The morning (for me) that he died, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and picked up my iPhone by my bed. It had lost the WiFi connection overnight and once it got connected and I was reading a text from a friend, I suddenly heard Robert’s message song! I got so excited and opened up the message, but all it was was a picture of the tumor. I was trying to figure out what that meant and then I looked at my email and saw I had six messages, all from him. As I began to read them, my heart panicked – he was telling me that he “could not take the pain anymore” and it was his “last day to live” – he was asking for assisted euthanasia. I was desperately trying to count the hours’ difference and wonder if I was too late. I sent back emails and iMessages, but just a little while later, his brother responded that he was already gone.
Despite my incredible sorrow over the loss, I immediately began to experience and recognize God’s amazing grace in the end. First off, Bill and Elaine were still here (just three more weeks later they would have been gone). They responded to my tearful 6:30 a.m. phone call by dropping everything and rushing to my house to be with me the remainder of the day. One of the things I had asked God for from the time Robert left the first time in February, was that no matter how the story ended, I would have closure. Robert was so very private about his life in many ways and especially so with his family. They knew very little about his life away from them (which was a pretty significant part of it). I had asked him several times to please give his family or a friend my contact information for someone to get in touch with me if something happened. He said he would, but was not the best about “organization” or “making plans,” and I don’t believe he ever did. With the looming possibility of a sudden death (rupture of his carotid artery), I always feared he would die and nobody would ever know to notify me. It also appears, from what I later learned after his death, that Robert himself intended to just “fade out” of my life (the euthanasia had been planned for several days). But apparently in those final hours, he could not bring himself to “leave this earth” (as his friend later told me) and not let me know. Over a period of many hours, he made several painstaking attempts (because he could no longer see well and had limited use of his hands) to reach me through emails and iMessages. However, I’m confident in his diminished mental state, he forgot about the 7 hour time difference between us.
As sad as I was at first that I had not been able to connect with him at the end, I finally realized later that I had already said everything I needed to say to him – and I had said it many times. Whatever I might have said in desperation at those last moments would probably have “muddied” things at that point. But it was Robert who had left things unsaid to me; and in those final emails, the few words he wrote spoke volumes. One of the many prayers I had prayed for him was that God would “transform Robert into someone who could receive the gift of my love and return it,” and in the end, he finally said that he loved me. I believe that was God showing me He had answered that prayer. And also, just as God had told me he would say, one of his last messages said, “See you on the other side.”
But Robert’s final emails were just the beginning of God’s grace. Because at the time I responded, his brother just happened to have Robert’s iPad. His family knew he had been trying to reach someone (and as his brother later told me, I was the only person Robert reached out to). So when Patrick saw my emails come through, he let me know that Robert was already gone. He offered his own email address to me and that began what became an extensive correspondence in the week after Robert died and beyond. Through that, I learned many things about Robert’s final weeks, days and even hours. Some were hard to hear (like rather than becoming “quiet as most people do when morphine is started,” he became “restless” and “continued his fight, up until the last day.”) Because Robert was not close to his brother (and actually, sadly, had unresolved issues with him – their’s was truly a “prodigal son & elder brother” relationship), Patrick didn’t even know who I was. But he continued to reach out to me and “bridge the gap,” communicating with Robert’s family. I told him about the rock, which they located and were going to place with him at cremation, but regulations would not allow it, so they put it in their garden (which Robert had loved). Then, as I stated before, I told Patrick about the dog tags, and he offered to send those to me, along with a few Belgium t-shirts that Robert had purchased to bring for me in January. His mother was the only one in the family who knew about me. Robert had sent her a few pictures in the past, and she knew that we corresponded and that I was “the one who helped him on the cruise.” But apparently she did not “connect the dots” beyond that and, Patrick said, “was surprised to learn that there was a love relationship.” However, his family was very gracious to continue to maintain a connection with me and keep me informed of all the plans and arrangements.
The final “grace upon grace” came when Patrick put Bill and Elaine (at their request) in touch with Robert’s best friend of over 25 years, Danny. They had met Danny when he visited Robert for a few weeks while he was in Nicaragua. Danny emailed Bill and Elaine and they encouraged him to reach out to me as well. What resulted from that was receiving the most incredible email correspondence and information that truly “bridged the gap” of what had been lacking from Robert’s side of the relationship. For Danny divulged that Robert had “talked many times about me and his feelings for me” and that he “truly adored” me. Among other things, he said that a few weeks before Robert died, he organized his funeral arrangements with Danny and asked him to speak. Danny stated, “During the funeral some pictures of you have been shown and he insisted that you would be part of the presentation! He wanted the world to know that you were part of his life.” So this incredibly private man (who had just posted the cruise pictures on his Facebook page not even two months prior and not a one of them included me), in the end, wanted all who were present to know that he had been loved. Danny also expressed over and over how much Robert talked about the cruise and said it was his “best vacation ever” (which is saying a lot from such a well traveled man). And Danny continually mentioned that he viewed what I did as a display of “amazing, sacrificial, unselfish love.” (I was also able to write a slightly modified version of this story for Danny, to testify to him the “why” behind all that I did for his dear friend.)
Robert is in the background of so many of my blog posts – by mention, between the lines, or simply in my memory. Up until now, he has truly been my “primary assignment” here and a huge part of the behind the scenes story. Below is a list of the posts that tell part of that story, along with a summary of what was happening in the background. I’m confident if you look at any of them again now, you will see them in a “different light”:
The “11/11” Story – written the day he arrived in Cayo. Little did I know how significant another “11 day” would become in my life.
More Random Stuff – makes mention of the day when we went to see Bill & Elaine’s house
First Christmas in Ecuador – describing our first card game, trip to Manta and Christmas Day
A Fresh Start – I prayed expectantly for what God would do with my “blank slate” life
Living A Dog’s Life – we all took Tag to the vet this day and later played cards
Bonfire On the Beach – we finally burned the bonfire he’d worked on for weeks and I sent him this blog when I published it (knowing if he read the other parts of my blog he would then know “who” I am)
Island Adventure – a “warm & fuzzy” day for both of us
The Bad and the Ugly – chronicles the “warfare” I began to encounter from praying for him
A Trip to the Dentist – a very sweet Valentines Day together, but the day I found out he had to return to Belgium
New Theme Song – became my theme song of what I was trying to do in Robert’s life – testify to God’s love
More Hard Times – discusses the day he left – I went to see him off at the bus stop and then returned home to be told I had to move out!
My Life Is In Your Hands – this song became a huge comfort to me beginning the day he left
Beach Companions – talks of my prayer time with Vera – she was Robert’s favorite dog and I felt like she was there with me to pray for him
Just Being – talks about my realization that I only had to “be” who God made me to be to have an affect on Robert’s life
People Who Need People – discussing that God’s providence of where I first rented was so I would meet the people I did (especially Robert)
Change – the sadness of seeing the sweet times we’d all been having come to an end
Remembering Emmie – the same day I found out Robert’s cancer was back
Enjoying Creation – written with him in mind to point out the miracles of nature that can only come from a Creator
Self Portrait – really took this picture to send to him 🙂
Haircare in Ecuador – I used to use his leftover beer for my hair and joked with him after this post that now I had to buy my own
Robert Returns – a very happy day!
Dark Days – written the day after he left in July
SUNday! – the day I received the hope of his dog tags
Life Is An Assignment – written with the perspective that our purpose in life is to live for accomplishing the assignments God gives us (and the “Just Be” song first came to me when I was feeling the weight of this assignment when he first returned in July and also just prior to the cruise)
Ballenas – written a month after we went whale watching, after he responded to my email and sent the pictures (none of mine had come out)
Feliz Cumpleanos a Mi – my friends helped me pray for him when they were here and just a few days afterwards we were reconnected
Silence Is Golden – I wasn’t writing because everything going on in my life at that time was about reconnecting with him, preparing for the cruise and then going
Fear vs. Love – written just after the cruise to describe the choice I had to make (and also on the heels of being back in the U.S. and experiencing media saturation over the Ebola virus)
Three Minutes That Changed My Life – he had just signed up to follow my blog not long before this and sent me an email saying “What is prophetic ministry?”
This Is War – written from the perspective of having been in a constant battle for him for over a year
Esperar – written at the point that I had been waiting for so long for him to come back and then it didn’t look like he would be able to
Hard Lessons – written once I realized that my “compromise” hindered my prayers and allowed the enemy an opportunity to attack him physically, keeping him from making his trip
Ama La Vida – Robert bought a shirt with this logo on it when he and his friend were traveling. He wore it the second night after they returned and I really liked it on him (and told him so) – so he wore it almost every night after that before he left 🙂
Always Expect the Unexpected – this was one of his favorite phrases
Let’s Think For a Moment – written specifically for him (and I tried to encourage him to read the book)
Just Let Me Cry – the day he died (God brought me the song just after he left in July and I played it many times during the weeks following his departure).
Muchas Gracias – thanks for condolences following his death and a meaningful song
Blessed Are Those Who Mourn – the day of his funeral
Introducing “Robert’s Story” – introduction to this page and photos of some of our special times together
There are so many things God wanted to teach me through this “assignment.” First, was to give me a taste of His incredible heart for “the one” and the lengths that He’s willing to go to pursue each of us. I learned how much He loves us, even in our brokenness, but still always gives us the free will choice whether or not we respond to that love and receive the blessings and benefits both in this life and the next. The Bible doesn’t just say God loves – it says God IS love! By allowing me to feel some of how He feels, I came to understand seeing someone primarily as a “person to love” and not as a “project to save.” God saves us BECAUSE He loves us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
I realize now that Robert pulled away from me any time he thought he’d let me down or disappointed me – when he was here the first time and cancelled out on going to town; when he came in July and believed he was going to die; when he couldn’t come in January; and when he realized he was near the end. A few times in his last emails he used the word he hated for anyone to say – “sorry” – like he was apologizing to me that he was going to die! I imagine he suffered so much rejection in his life from people who he’d “disappointed or let down.” And I thought about how so often that is what we expect from God. We often see Him as one who is “chronically disappointed” with us and tend to shrink back from Him when we know we’ve done so, rather than understanding His incredible mercy and love.
I also felt at some point midway through, that God was telling me that through this journey He was developing in me the three things that will remain: faith, hope and love. (1 Corinthians 13:13) In the area of faith, He was constantly growing and challenging me in new ways. It seemed that each time I could pray in faith at one level, God would “raise the bar” and say, “Now can you pray in faith up here?” He challenged me to continue to pray for what I believed He showed me He wanted to do in Robert’s life, despite how impossible or dark the circumstances were in the moment. In the area of hope, He planted desires in my heart of what I hoped to see God bring to fruition in Robert’s life. And in the area of love, He was teaching me His incredible love for us, even when we are in our brokenness and have absolutely nothing to offer Him in return (I always knew that without God’s healing and love in him, Robert could never truly be able to love me back).
The Apostle Paul said that the only foundation that can be built on is Jesus Christ. But once we begin building on that foundation, some will build with “wood, hay and straw” – and Paul says in the end, anything built that way will be burned up and that person will be saved, but “as one escaping through the flames.” But he says that those who build with “gold, silver and costly stones,” when what they have built has been “tested by fire,” will have a reward. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) I realized through all of this, that gold, silver and costly stones equals the three things he also tells us will remain – faith, hope and love. Whatever is “built” with these things will result in us having that as part of our “treasure in heaven.”
I am not one who believes that everyone goes to a “happy place.” I believe all of God’s word in its entirety and in it, Jesus states that there is a place prepared for “the devil and his angels” and those who choose to follow him and his ways and reject God will eventually go there as well. (Matthew 25:41) But I believe God, in His mercy, gives each person every possible opportunity to choose Him. I’ve heard many testimonies of people’s near death experiences as well as witnessed it myself as I’ve been with people when they died. Quite honestly, I don’t know how it all works, especially with my “theology” – but I am coming to learn that theology is often nothing more than a box we build that we try to put God into – and He is way too big to fit in any box! Theology is really just “studying about God” and although there is nothing wrong with that, per se, we often substitute it for what God really wants from us – relationship. The Western church does not realize how much what they believe about God (and even how they come to that belief) is based on “Greek thinking” – and Greek thinking elevated knowledge above all. However, this “knowledge” was really head knowledge – thinking, philosophizing, analyzing, pondering, etc. But the “Eastern” mindset (which includes the people, culture and customs of Biblical times) had a much deeper definition of knowledge, and it revolved around intimacy. It was a “knowing” that encompassed not just your head, but your heart and whole being as well. It wasn’t just knowing facts about someone or something, but much deeper than that (in fact, some of the early English Bible translations used the word “know” to mean “intercourse” – “And Adam knew his wife and she conceived and bore him a son.”) Deuteronomy 4:29 does NOT say, “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your MIND” it says “with all your HEART and with all your SOUL.” So we cannot just know things about God, we have to KNOW God – and that comes from having an intimate, personal relationship with Him. And when we do that, we get to know and experience His heart – and certainly God’s heart is much bigger than anything we can know in our head.
When I first wrestled with wondering whether Robert was with God, I asked Him to not allow me any “false hope.” I didn’t want to comfort myself with platitudes, no matter how desperately I wanted to believe he was with God. I asked God to only give me true hope from Him. One of the first things I “heard” as I was processing with God in the days following Robert’s death was “judge nothing before the appointed time.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) After that, there were several specific things that God did over a period of many days to continue to give me confirmations that Robert chose Him in the end. I won’t go into all the many amazing details (but God knows each of us and how to speak to us personally in the ways that we can hear, and He spoke to me in many ways to reassure my heart). The two most significant reassurances I had were:
1) Robert’s statement in one of his final emails – “See you on the other side.” When I was with my mother as she was dying, there were several things she said during those final “transition” hours that I realized were clues from God to give me a glimpse “behind the veil” into what He was doing for and with her. At first, when I received that message from Robert, I wondered if he might have just said that because he knew that was what I believed (and they say there are no atheists at the end). But later I realized that Robert had absolutely no clue about that phrase and its significance to me. And after a year of chemo treatments, many months of major pain killers and being on morphine the last week of his life, his brain was “mush” by the end. So I quickly began to realize, that just as with my mother, God was directing his last words to me, and that each thing he said had huge significance. If God told me nearly a year before he died, that would be the last thing he would say to me (with the implication it would be true), then how could I possibly think that out of all the things Robert could have said, that one phrase would be spoken in “coincidence”?! I believe with all my heart God would NOT have allowed Robert to say that phrase to me, if it were not true.
2) I have a friend who has in essence become like a “spiritual twin brother” to me (and that is a whole other crazy, epic God story for another day). The day Robert died, I sent out an email to my close friends who had been following the story. This friend emailed later and told me that night he’d had a dream about me and it was the first time he’d ever done so (he has “spiritual” dreams on a regular basis). It seems that the timing was such, that he was having the dream right around the time Robert died (which was 3:30 a.m. our time). He said that in the dream, he was at my house and a guy came who he did not know, but I did and he was going to tease me about it when I returned, because he knew how important it would have been to me that the guy was there and I missed him. He said in the dream the guy had a shortened version of a name – like Phil for Philip – or something like that (all my friends know him as “Robert” and I don’t think this friend knew that his real name was “Bert”). In the dream, my friend saw the guy, but the guy was looking off and didn’t see him and was lit from above. I certainly had felt I had “missed” Robert, since I did not see his messages until it was too late. So when I first learned of the dream, it seemed to have some significance. A few days later, I shared with this friend that I had been feeling sad remembering how excited I was when making all the preparations for Robert to come in January, and then he didn’t get to see my house. A few more days later, when my friend saw the blog post I published the day of the funeral with Robert’s obituary picture, he emailed and said, “Mary, that is the man I saw in my dream – he DID get to see your house!” (He also said what struck him in the dream was that the man he saw looked almost like a guy he used to play with in a band many years ago – and that guy’s last name was Grace!)
So those are just a few of the many signs that God used to confirm to me that Robert was with Him. In that week following his death, I asked God why He hadn’t just given me ironclad assurance that Robert chose Him in the end (like an email from Robert saying, “I’ve met and accepted Jesus,” or something like that). And the answer I heard back was, “If you had assurance, you wouldn’t have to HOPE!” So that’s just one more way He is developing in me one of the three things that will remain.
I believe the “fight” in his last days that his brother described, was Robert wrestling to make peace with his Creator. I have heard many stories and witnessed myself part of the mystery of God’s mercy to give chances up until the very last. I am confident when people enter what I call the “death sleep,” (the time of much and deep sleep in their final days leading up to death) there are things that happen “behind the veil” that we will never know or understand on this side. I believe in Robert’s wrestling, God was allowing him to come to terms with the “gravity of his depravity” and recognize his need for a Savior – and as I already said, I have hope that he did.
In the end, God showed me so many ways He answered my many prayers for Robert, although sometimes it was different from what I expected. And there are several things I prayed for that I feel God has told me will still be answered. For example, the obituary picture his family used (shown at the top of this page) was from a larger picture taken with his nephew, that he’d sent me a few months before he died. The picture was taken 4 months before he got cancer the first time. It is a different Robert than I ever knew. I put it on my digital picture frame and one day, when it came up, I asked God that I would see THAT man some day. I prayed it in the context of wanting him to be healed. But I find it interesting that my friend said he saw THAT man at my house in his dream, and later I felt God say to me, “You WILL see THAT man some day.” I also recalled the prayer I prayed as I hugged him goodbye at the end of the cruise – “Please don’t let it be the last time!” I had meant it in the context of seeing him again in January, and as I said before, I think that would have happened. But I still feel that God has since said to me, “It won’t be the last time.”
Believe it or not, there are so many other amazing details of the story that are too much to share here – including more sweet memories, “seed planting” conversations, providences, messages from God and many prophecies and signs given to me within the year before I came, that specifically pointed to and helped prepare me for this assignment. In “The Shack,” a fictional metaphor book probing the depths of God’s incredible love in the midst of the pain in our lives, William Paul Young has the main character, Mack, asking Jesus the question, “So do all roads lead to you?” Jesus’ answer in the book is, “Not at all. Most roads don’t lead anywhere. But I will travel any road to find you.” In having the privilege of being a part of God’s love and pursuit of Robert, I have felt His heart for the “one lost sheep” and for “the prodigal” and the lengths He will go to in order to rescue them. The heart I had for Robert was misunderstood by even some of my closest friends. But I recently came across another quote from the aforementioned book that I read many years ago: “I suppose that since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.”
God loved Robert very much, and He knew the tenacity I had to stand by and love someone no matter what (as evidenced by how I did that through 22 years of marriage, only to ultimately have that love rejected). After my husband left, I asked God if there wasn’t someone out there that He created to receive the gift of my love and that it would make a difference in their life. God knew the capacity He had put in me to love, and He knew that long ago I gave Him my whole life, including my heart, to do with as He chose. As horrible as the cancer was, I’m not sure Robert would have really been able to understand the depth of real love apart from it. It was only in the context of seeing that I loved him through all of it, that he could really understand that he was genuinely loved. So in a way, the cancer became a “severe mercy.” I believe the tumor was an outward manifestation of the internal pain and brokenness that so burdened his heart. As I said, I told him after the cruise that he needed healing “here” (heart) as much or more than he needed healing “here” (cancer). And in his final email, he sent a picture of the tumor, and pointed out that what, at the time of the cruise, had been a perfect circle hole in his neck about the size of a racquet ball, had now changed shape and in the end “the tumor looks like a heart” (and it did!)
I had really thought I would be with him at the very end, but I believe in some way that I don’t know or understand, I was – if only in his heart. The only thing I regret, is that Robert never got to know that I chose to love him even knowing from the beginning what it would cost me. That is how God loved us, knowing from the beginning that it would cost Him sending His son to die for us. But I’m confident Robert knows all that now. I do believe there are several reasons that God brought me to Ecuador, but even if it was just for Robert, that would be reason enough.
I knew all along that what Robert was drawn to in me was God’s light. One of the things I continually prayed was that God would “draw Robert like a moth to flame, to His light and love that are in me.” From the beginning I felt God telling me that my purpose in Robert’s life was that he would know how much God loved him before he died. I did my best to tell him and show him that. There were many “stumbling blocks” that stood in the way of him being able to accept it. I kept on praying for him up until the very end. I do not know exactly what transpired with and in Robert in the last month, days and even minutes of his life. I only know that as I prayed for him, I kept hearing God say, “Leave him to me now.” John 3:17 says, “But Jesus replied, ‘My Father is always working, and so am I.‘” As I’ve already stated, God has given me several reasons to hope and believe that Robert did, in fact, “transact business” with Him before he died. As with so many things that happen in our lives, there are still many unanswered questions that I will likely not know on this side. But no matter how his life ended, I know what Robert would tell you now if he could – choose Jesus! He is the only True Way to love and life, and He is SO WORTH IT!
“God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! No one who has faith in God’s Son will be condemned. But everyone who doesn’t have faith in him has already been condemned for not having faith in God’s only Son. The light has come into the world, and people who do evil things are judged guilty because they love the dark more than the light. People who do evil hate the light and won’t come to the light, because it clearly shows what they have done. But everyone who lives by the truth will come to the light, because they want others to know that God is really the one doing what they do.” ~ John 3:16-21
“All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” ~ Romans 3:23
“The wages that sin pays are death, but God’s gift is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 6:23
Near the beginning of this journey, I wrote a blog post and stated that this was my new “theme song” and it was specifically pertaining to my assignment with Robert. But although he is now gone, it is still my theme song, because the story that I am left with continues to allow me to “testify to love.”
There are several of you who walked with and prayed for me and for Robert for part or all of this journey. Words cannot express my deepest gratitude that you willingly joined this “roller coaster” time with me. You literally “held up my arms” and prayed many and deep prayers along with me for someone you had never met. You know who you are, and I could never say thank you enough, but your true reward will be an eternal one!
(or the beginning?…)