Just two weeks before his weary body gave into the decade-long battle with the cancer that had eaten his body and his bones from the inside out and caused pain most of us cannot even imagine, a young man named John wrote these words in his journal:
“I love You, Lord. I love how You give me words when I have none. You give me the lyrics when my song is dull or weak. I love singing for for You, to You. Praising your name – I wish my voice and fingers would allow me all day long.”
I didn’t know John well, but I am forever changed by his example. As this week marks the first anniversary of his passing, I want to share a little about John with you, too. I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but it’s been difficult choosing which of my many thoughts to put into this post.
Cancer could never conquer John Evans’ faith.
I knew of John and his family through mutual friends, and heard about John’s battle with a rare form of bone cancer diagnosed when he was just ten years old. One Sunday morning about two years ago, my family ended up sitting a row behind John’s family in church. I knew from our mutual friend that he was dealing with new tumors aggressively attacking his bones, and that he was in a great deal of pain, particularly in his arms and legs, so I was surprised to see him in church. This had been one of those mornings when I was grumbling about having a headache, and I didn’t really want to go to church. I was there begrudgingly. But John wanted so badly to worship in the fellowship of other believers that he was there despite his pain — and when the worship music began, John stood on his painful legs and held his tumor-riddled arms high in worship. I have never been so dramatically humbled. That was the first time I met John Evans.
Everyone who ever met him seems to have a John Evans story.
John was a good-looking and polite young man with a firm handshake, a genuine smile, a direct gaze, and a strong personality. But there was something more than that, something hard to pinpoint or describe; I believe it was the light of Jesus shining though.
“We’re all terminal…”
In church one Sunday morning, the pastor interviewed John as part of the sermon. John talked openly about a time in his teens that brought him truly and desperately to the feet of Jesus, when he had become addicted to pain medication. That low was when he had fully given his life to Christ. As he continued to talk about living with cancer, dealing with pain, and facing death, John said he didn’t want to waste whatever time he had to live. He referred to Hebrews 12, and said,
“We are all terminal… If you aren’t running the race with all you’ve got, why bother running at all?”
My friendship with John’s mom Kimberly began when she saw a post on my blog about a few kids available for adoption. One was Lindsey’s friend Deanna, then almost 17 years old. Kimberly felt a nudge from God about adopting her, and called me to discuss it. When she brought the idea to her family to consider, John was enthusiastically in favor of doing so. He loved Deanna as a sister even before he met her, and they seemed to have a special bond. Five months later, Deanna’s adoption was finalized by phone while the family sat in John’s bed because he had become too sick to leave the house.
Although John loved life, his illness made him eager to “go home.” When he finally did, his family was heartbroken to lose John — but they were thankful he was no longer in pain, and that he was finally in the arms of the Savior he loved so much.
There were tears at John’s memorial service, but mostly, there was worship, and there were many good memories and testimonies shared about John’s life.
The worship team who playing at the service had visited John a week or two before. They didn’t plan to sing on this visit, but just stop by to lift his spirits a little. Kimberly explained to them that John’s bones were as porous as coral, being eaten away by tumors. But John asked Brett, the lead singer, to pick up his guitar and play. So they sang, and John worshiped with his hands held high. When he couldn’t hold them up any longer, he asked his dad to help hold them up. Brett said that heaven came down to John’s room that day, and it was an experience he’d never forget.
One long-time friend shared about a time John came to visit him at college. John wandered off, wearing jeans and a cowboy hat (but no shoes) to look for a quiet place to read his Bible. When John’s friend found him hours later, he was surrounded by a crowd, leading an impromptu Bible study with a group of students he’d never met before.
Through tears, John’s girlfriend told about one of their first dates, when they went to a worship concert and John kneeled at her feet to pray for her. She shared from the letters John had written to remind her of her worth in Christ. He told her, “The King is enthralled by your beauty.“
John’s parents read excerpts from his journals. His dad said it’s usually the parents who teach the children, but he felt that in his case, it was the other way around.
“I believe my time is short and I need to make the best use of my time as I am able. I know I need to be constantly pursuing You so I can lead others to You. Only through You can I do this, and I believe You are faithful. You will stretch me and help me reach out my short arms. My God is my guide, I can’t get lost. He is my light. He gives me armor; I can’t be hurt. My family and friends will fight along side of me. When the battle has been won, I will lay down. I will kneel and bow my head so I get no honor, no glory but to the One who gave us glory- the One who is mighty to save, Creator of all things- the One who is Love, who lives in me and directs me! God, You are so good!” Journal entry, Oct. 15 (less than one month before John’s passing)
The following week, Louie Giglio from Passion City Church gave an awesome sermon inspired by John: Fully Alive. I encourage you to take the time to listen to it.
After John’s death, his family chose to keep his facebook page active, and they occasionally share words from his journal or from some of his favorite devotions. But what is even more moving is the stories people share on his facebook wall: stories of how John touched their lives through his vivacious way of living and loving. John never backed down from the speaking the truth, sometimes so boldly it was humorous, but it was always done in love.
A life well-lived lives on.
John taught me most of all that a life well-lived really can make an eternal difference. John was only twenty-one when he died, but his influence continues on. How many folks live decades longer than John, yet never make an eternal impact on this world?
Will you be there with John in heaven? If you’re not sure, please pray about it. I know that John would be delighted to greet you and call you friend, even if he never knew you on this earth.
And if you are sure about your salvation, are you really living your life? Are you running your race with all you’ve got? I’m not, yet; not really. But because of John Evans, I’ve seen what it looks like to live.