*Original story, “Too Young to Die?” written January 15, 2017.
**Edited and published January 15, 2018.
Interestingly as I begin to draft this piece of my story, it is the day before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, only now it is 8 years later (2017).** The number “8” in scripture relates to new beginnings, and this is actually the first time I’m beginning to finally write parts of my story. Wow. The timing of the Lord is impeccable. I can’t plan these things. Only He can. We often think we’re behind, but He’s not… and I have stories like this for days. To think of where I was then and where I am now… Great is HIS faithfulness. Why do I ever doubt you, Lord?
I am reminded of that January Sunday morning. It’s one of those pivotal, defining moments very early on in my faith journey that I will not forget, one that opened my eyes just a little wider and began to lay a foundation for the days to come. It was January 18, the day before MLK, Jr. Day in 2009, and our church at the time was in the middle of a 21-day fast to jump start the new year, which me and my husband were participating in for the first time ever (though we really didn’t know what we were doing). We had just started returning to church on a regular basis after being married five months earlier. As we transitioned from worship to the message that morning, our pastor played a moving video presentation regarding the life and exploits of the late Dr. King, featuring his famous “I have a dream” speech, his mission and pursuit of justice in the Civil Rights Movement, the events leading up to his assassination, and his last speech, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” where he eerily prophesied just one day before his death:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now.… But it really doesn’t matter…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain…. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!…. MLK, Jr. (April 3, 1968)
What an inspiration it was to recount the life and deeds of this man, so sure of his calling, sure of his mission, bold in the face of adversity and willing to die for his weighty cause even at such a young age, without even a hint of the fear of death, and resolving himself to the sovereignty of God and the numbering of his days. However, if I’m being completely honest, my admiration quickly turned into panic as my mind rushed back to the reality of own situation and there I found myself again questioning my own personal fate. Was I destined to die young? Given the health concerns that had been looming over me for the past couple of months, it sure seemed like a possibility. Though obviously my circumstances were much different than those of Martin Luther King, Jr., I certainly didn’t display the courage he did. No, quite the opposite; I was nothing short of fretful and in all honesty, I was shaking in my boots.
For the last two months I had been believing (the best I knew how to) for a miracle concerning my health, hoping and praying (okay, let’s be real… at that particular point in my faith, I was begging) that the Lord would heal me and that the doctor’s concerns of colon cancer would be found unsubstantiated. The stage, however, had already been set for fear to start taking root as not only did I have a family history of colon cancer, but I was also quickly reminded (as the enemy likes to do at just the right time) of a statement I had recently read in a book (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t know if it’s God’s will for you to be healed, so just pray for peace, comfort and that his will would be done.” These words never did sit well with me, but at that time my mind was just so vulnerable, I didn’t really know what else to think. I can tell you though that as a young newlywed who had been diagnosed with severe complications relating to a chronic disease and now the potential threat of death, those words did not bring me much comfort.
As I continued sitting through the service that morning, I became increasingly uncomfortable as I pondered the short life of MLK, Jr. and how he must have so desired to see the fruits of all he had hoped and prayed for and so zealously pursued, yet he lost his life before he could see those things fulfilled here on earth. I wrestled inside with so much tension and emotion, wondering if I would see my own prayers answered or if I would succumb to an early death. My mind raced back and forth and I was bombarded with the gloomiest of thoughts. I knew the Lord was able to heal, I just wasn’t fully convinced He would heal me, though I desperately wanted Him to. And again, if I’m being fully honest, my motivations for seeking healing could certainly be challenged at this point. They were not really about Him at all. After all, I didn’t really know Him all that well despite spending my entire childhood in church. I had never really fully surrendered my life to Him. So at this point, my shaky theology and my lack of history with the Lord were definitely not helping me properly navigate through this roller coaster of emotions I was having or the things coming my way.
I started to feel very antsy and I could not wait for the pastor to just wrap it up so I could get out of there and spill my guts to my husband. It had already been such an intense couple of months with so much uncertainty and frankly, I was beginning to lose hope that my situation would turn around. All I really wanted at that point was some reassurance and I was hoping my husband would give it to me. I just wanted someone to tell me (or better yet, guarantee me) that, “…It’s okay. You are going to be okay…. and you’re not going to die young!”
I quickly hustled us along the moment church was dismissed and I nearly ran outside, jumped behind the wheel and drove us down the road a ways before pulling over into a public parking lot. I felt far enough away at that point to finally… safely… release my tears and my fears to my husband and I began to furiously pour my heart out to him.
“What if I am supposed to die young? What if that’s my destiny? Martin Luther King, Jr. died young! And it even sounds like he was ok with it! Well, I’m sure he didn’t necessarily want to die young. He did say he wanted to live a long life like everyone does. But he knew he had a mission that he was carrying out. And he sure seemed to have a peace about where he had been and where he was going. He was courageous even if his cause would cost him his life! He wasn’t afraid! But me?! I AM afraid! What if they really do find colon cancer? What will that mean? What will life look like? I mean we’re newlyweds for crying out loud! Are you okay with this? Why is this happening to me? And what is my mission anyway? Just to die young? This seems so unfair. I just feel so uneasy. My stomach is in knots! I am so scared! I just don’t want to die!”
Okay yes, I was certainly dramatic but this was one of those breakdowns where you just keep it real and say exactly what your thoughts are telling you, even if you know you sound all over the place. The truth is, I was just so consumed with self-pity… I just could not get out of myself. The sad story of what could become of me haunted my mind over and over. I mean, everybody loves a happy ending, right? But now if I die at 32 years old, a newlywed who hasn’t even gotten the chance to start her own family… the girl who has always appeared to have it all together that went from invincible to chronically sick to … well you know… how is this a happy ending? Is this truly my destiny and how it’s going down? That I would live a life full of searching, toiling, working, stressing, even if it didn’t appear that way on the outside, only then to find my husband, but then to get sick and die? How could this be?!
After continuing on and on, my husband (who has a way of reeling me back in every time I go out on an unraveling tangent) retorted,
“Okay, let’s stop for a second. So what if you do die?”
Well, that’s not the response I was looking for. Ummmm….WHAT?! Come again?! Did you really say what I think you said? I am your wife, remember?! Your young, sick wife who feels like she is fighting for her life, and right now fighting for her sanity… and you just married me like five minutes ago, and you just said…WHAT?!”
Now you would have to know my husband to know that he is a very practical person, a rational and objective thinker, and he tends to view situations with the bigger picture in mind and hardly ever through an emotional lens. This is actually a gift… well, at least a perfect gift for me… because I, on the other hand, am by God-given nature an emotional, sensitive person who is really into the details (also gifts…!). Although, yes, my husband’s outlook can be refreshing at times, I have to say that in this particular moment and considering my emotional state, I was stunned! Of course I looked at him like he was crazy and abruptly said,
“What do you mean? How could you say that? You mean you don’t care if I die?”
…to which he quickly explained, “Come on! Of course I care. I love you. I don’t want you to die. But, the truth is… I don’t care if I die. I mean if I were to die today, what is the worst thing that would happen? Sure, you would miss me. Our families would miss me. But me… I would be in heaven which would be amazing, so what is there to be afraid of?”
Huh?! I was just flabbergasted by his response. I could not fathom how he could be so calm and fearless about his (or better yet, my!) potential or impending death. All I could do was sit in silence for a minute to reflect on his words, truly speechless… but it sure started me thinking… What peace one must have with God in order to make such a statement. To truly have no fear of death at all because of the certainty of where you are going was just astonishing to me. Gosh, really? Was this also the same realization Dr. King had? Is this certainty what allowed him to speak the words he did with such fearlessness and with such authority? Wow. What am I scared of? Am I really sure of my salvation? Do I really know God? Is it the unknown that I’m afraid of? Is it the process of death? Is it potential pain? Suffering? Is it what I might leave behind? Is it regret? Did I live a fulfilling life? I just felt so unsettled, so afraid, but I really didn’t know how to think any differently. It had never really occurred to me that one could have peace with God and with the thought of death. I sure wasn’t there yet. I was holding on ‘for dear life’ to my life and this wouldn’t be the last time the fear of death would be confronted in me.
The person who wants to save his life must lose it,
and she who loses her life for Me will find it.
Matthew 16:25 (Voice)
It was moments like this that began to define my journey and the Lord took me from hardly knowing Him at all, or only knowing the idea I had of Him, to truly revealing Himself to me little by little, piece by piece, and more and more in the days ahead. He was in no rush to answer my prayers exactly the way I wanted Him to or expected Him to because He knows everything and He’s not in a panic. Instead, He began sovereignly putting His finger on the things He wanted to address and in the timing He wanted to address them. All the while though, there is no mistake: He held my very life in His hands and He still does. He is a healer and His plans for me have always been good. His word was already settled in heaven long ago on this matter but at that point in my walk with Him, it had not yet been settled in my heart.
I truly had no idea the depths of what the Lord was beginning to do in my heart back then. You will see as more of my story is told over time that yes, He healed me, not only physically but so much more, and He has done more for me than what I ever asked of Him back then, because He is way more into the details than even I am.
MY STORY: Afraid to Die.