From Guideposts Magazine. Used by permission.

Chris Hart was not your average 16-year-old. He was six feet eight inches tall and weighed 260 pounds. In his freshman year of high school he played on the varsity football team; he could bench press 250 pounds and squat 450. Then he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of cancer. For a while it was in remission, then during his junior year it returned. A couple of months before Christmas in 1993 he was told by doctors that he probably did not have long to live.

That same year a local radio station sponsored a contest granting requests to people who wrote in with the best Christmas wishes. A member of our church wrote a letter to the radio station on Chris' behalf. Little did I know that when this letter was chosen, my world would change too.

Chris' first wish was to have a stereo system for his truck. A local electronics firm obliged. His second wish was to see a Dallas Cowboys football game. That was his favorite team and he was their greatest fan. To his surprise, he not only got to see the Cowboys play, he actually met some of them in the locker room. Chris' third wish was more difficult to coordinate because of its sensitive nature. He wanted a date with a redhead.

At this point I should probably explain that I am a redhead.

My dad came home from church one night and told me about Chris and his three wishes, especially his third wish. "Dad, I don't even know the guy," I said. How could I go on a date with him? I didn't go to his school. I had never met him. My dad, who is a minister, had visited Chris several times, and all he could say about him was that he was very nice, very tall and "big-boned." With some hesitation I said yes.The date was scheduled for the week before Christmas. Before then Chris and I had only talked on the phone. He seemed sweet, but I was nervous about going out on a date so I asked one of my best friends to join us. When Chris came to pick me up I was a little shocked by how he looked. He was huge and bald from his chemotherapy treatments. He wore a hat but took it off inside to be polite, exposing his hairless head. When we went to a local pizza restaurant, he had to duck to get through the door and everyone stared at us.

After that he started to come by my house after school, and we talked about our problems or watched goofy movies like "The Lion King" and "Aladdin." He told me how much he missed playing football and sometimes we listened to music.

On Valentine's Day a friend and I cooked a special dinner for both her boyfriend and Chris, and we exchanged presents. Chris seemed pleased with the teddy bear and the new CD. He even asked me to go to his junior-senior prom.

Then I did something I'm still ashamed of.

It started when the town newspaper did an article about Chris' three wishes. It was accompanied by a picture of the two of us in front of his truck. The caption said we dated. When kids from school saw the article and picture, they made comments. I tried to ignore them, but then one day, one of the popular seniors said to me, "Hey I guess that guy couldn't find anybody better to date." It really hurt. I was only a sophomore and still felt new to the town. I didn't want them to think I was weird.

When Chris called I said was busy and couldn't talk. I made excuses, so he stopped coming over and we stopped going out. At night I cried myself to sleep because I knew I was being cruel, but I couldn't help it. Chris' prom was coming up and I knew I had to talk to him. Mom's friend had made a special dress for me and I had promised to go. So I called Chris and we made plans to go out to dinner with friends before the prom.

That night when he came to pick me up, we didn't talk much at first. He looked good in his tuxedo and sneakers (he couldn't find any black shoes big enough to fit). He had also lost a lot of weight. His class ring was so loose it kept falling off.

We joined our friends for dinner and started to laugh and joke like old times. On the way to the dance, Chris began to feel bad. We waited in the parking lot until he regained his strength.

Inside the auditorium it was beautiful, all decorated with an Egyptian theme. Everyone else was dancing and having a great time, but Chris still felt weak, so he could only sit and watch. While we were talking, the DJ interrupted the music and one of the football players took the microphone. He talked about Chris and how special he was. Then they dedicated the prom to Chris and gave him a plaque. It was one of his proudest moments.

After the prom I didn't care what people at my school thought. They could say whatever they wanted. Chris was my friend. I just hoped he could forgive me for the way I had treated him. That spring he became much worse and the doctors gave him two weeks to live. Every day for those two weeks, I visited him. He had a huge bed set up in his bedroom with a lot of pillows, and together we watched TV and talked.

He wasn't afraid to talk about dying. I found it painful but my dad said that just by listening to Chris I was helping him.

Each day it got harder for Chris to concentrate. By the last few days he could barely recognize anybody. Saturday afternoon was the last time I got to visit Chris. As I was leaving, he called me back and asked for a hug. As I hugged him, he whispered, "I love you." It was the first time he had said those words to me. He really had forgiven me.

Sunday morning I went straight home after church. My parents had suggested I join them at a restaurant for lunch but I felt there was some reason I shouldn't. Only moments after I got home, a phone call came from Chris's dad; Chris was dying. I called the restaurant where my parents were eating and they rushed home and took me to Chris'.

Family and friends were gathered around Chris' bed. He was breathing with great gasps, very slowly. I stood there but could say nothing. Words wouldn't come.

"Christi's here," my dad said softly. "We're all here and we love you." How could I say good-bye?

"Dear God," my dad prayed, "please be with Chris and all of those present and his family. Give us a sense of peace as you receive Chris into your loving arms..."

I looked up to see Chris take his last breath. He was gone.

That was two years ago and I still miss Chris. I miss the good times we had telling stories, listening to music, laughing and just being together. I miss him during football season because I know how much that sport meant to him. I miss the sweetness he showed me. He helped my faith grow, for he taught me that friends, no matter what they look like, are truly important.

My dad says that people who show you the love of God are "God with skin on." That was Chris.
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