A few days ago I was given an extraordinary gift. A dear friend of mine invited me over to his house to meet a truly remarkable young man. The young man's name is Sean and at the time he was in the midst of a two-year battle with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare form of tissue and bone cancer that predominately attacks adolescents and young adults. Sean grew up in Brentwood and came to Knoxville to play tennis at UT, where Ben (my friend) became one of his coaches. But shortly after signing with UT, in October of 2012, Sean was diagnosed with cancer, which was the beginning of a heroic two-year journey. And it was also the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Ben and Sean. If you know Ben at all, you know two things: he loves his players and he loves Jesus. Well, eventually Sean's most recent stage of his battle with cancer required a significant amount of care and attention, but because of his love for his teammates and his friends he did not want to leave Knoxville. Therefore, my friend Ben invited Sean, and his family and friends, to come live with him. Again, if you know my friend Ben, this is no surprise at all. That is where the "extraordinary gift" part comes in.
On Wednesday of last week Ben invited me over to join some friends and family as they prayed for Sean. It was an incredibly beautiful and intimate time. Beautiful in the sense of a man selflessly opening his home, and his heart, to a group of folks in tough circumstances in order to kindly and compassionately make their lives as easy as possible. Beautiful in the sense of the love poured out on this young man by a community of family and friends who were loving him selflessly and extravagantly. And beautiful in the sense of an incredibly strong and courageous young man fighting an epic battle with heroic perseverance and bravery. I watched as Ben warmly and gently made such wonderful space for this beautiful story to unfold. I watched as a group of women cared for Sean with such tenderness and affection that, as a bit of an outsider, I didn't feel worthy to witness it. And I watched as Sean tenaciously fought a battle that would have overwhelmed, and long since defeated, a lesser man.
And so we prayed. We gathered around his bed and laid our hands upon him and poured out our hearts. We prayed for healing. We prayed for comfort. We prayed for peace. All of which God graciously granted; for on Sunday, November 16, Sean peacefully went to be with Jesus. Now he is, indeed, whole. Now he is, indeed, comforted beyond our wildest imaginations. Now he is, indeed, fully at peace. In the immortal words of Dwight L. Moody, “One day you are going to read that Dwight L. Moody is dead. Don’t believe it. For at that moment I will be more alive than I have ever been." And so it is with Sean.
I realized that day that I had been given an extraordinary gift. During times like these we are often tempted to ask the question "Why?" And as I drove away from the house I began thinking about that very question. But it wasn't the whys you would have normally expected, it was a whole different set of whys. The whys that recognize that all of life is a gift. Like, why did I get the privilege of spending thirty profoundly impactful minutes with such an incredible group of people? Why did I get the privilege of meeting this amazing young man? Why was I somehow chosen to be one of the ones that were fortunate enough to have found themselves in his life-changing path? And I thought about his parents. Why were they given the incredible gift of being this young man's parents? Did God have a broad smile on his face as he gave them this amazing son? And why did they get the privilege of having him for a full twenty years? Why not just twenty minutes? Or twenty days? Why did God want them to have hearts and minds filled to overflowing with a full twenty years of wonderful memories? What a gift! And I thought about his friends. Why did they get the gift of being able to be Sean's friend? Why did God specifically pick them out to be next door neighbors, or classmates, or doubles partners with this extraordinary young man? Why did they get that privilege and not someone else? For they are so much the richer for having known him and having been around him. And then I thought about his teammates. Why were they the ones to be chosen to come to Tennessee, in just the right place at just the right time, to get to be on Sean's team. And why did God give him to the UT community to begin with, and not to Vanderbilt, or Florida, or Georgia? Why did they get the gift of walking this journey with him? Why did they get the gift of seeing the courage and the tenacity and the bravery and the strength and the fight of this one remarkable young man who would forever change the course of their lives by having known him?
I know I am a richer man for having met Sean and his family, and I was only around them for about thirty minutes. I can't imagine the impact of being around him for two years, much less twenty. And I am forever grateful for those thirty minutes and this one amazing young man who helped change forever the way I see the question, "Why?"