I faced the prospect of my own death this month. Every woman in my family has thyroid problems and my sister fought a long battle with thyroid cancer, so my whole life they've all been harping, "You'd better watch it, Ted! (That's my childhood nickname.) Have it tested every year, no exceptions!"
A few years ago, the doctors found a lump of little consequence on one side of my thyroid. They told me to go on with my life, to just "Watch it." This year, they found lumps, plural. I had one on each side of my thyroid and one of them had enough "substance" to cause some alarm.
A good friend of mine here suggested I see a doctor from our church who just happens to be the best thyroid doctor in the country. You all know what I think of coincidences like this... They aren't coincidences at all. "Our steps are ordered by the Lord, how else can a man understand his way?" Dwayne and I both agreed one of the reasons we felt compelled to settle here in Connecticut may have been because God knew in advance I would need to see this doctor.
The doctor saw me a few days ago and assured me that the lump wasn't large enough to be threatening, just yet, and that I could continue to live as usual, but watching my thyroid closer than ever.
There were only a few days between the threatening test results and the expert doctor's reassuring words, but that was long enough to force me to face the prospect of dying sooner than I expected, leaving my husband alone with our little girl.
The first thing I had to know was "Why?" If things did get ugly, why would God allow me to get sick? I found a passage of Scripture that answered that question for me right away. Jesus and his disciples passed a man they knew had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned and caused this man to be born blind, him or his parents?" Jesus answered, "Neither. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." It was as if God himself reassured me with those words. "You have not done anything wrong and even with two daughters sick like this, neither have your parents. I intend to work through this and use this to bring glory to myself." Though Jesus went on to heal the man born blind, I didn't take the passage as a promise for healing, but at least, I knew getting sick wasn't punishment from above and that God could use it for a greater purpose.
But, even if God used it and even if He wasn't punishing me, I may not be healed... So, the next thing I faced was actually dying. For the first time in the situation, I didn't think about anyone but myself. Dying is very personal, I think. It's done, ultimately, alone. And so, it is quite lonely. Even further, faith is deeply personal and it is only genuine if it is, truly, your very own. For a moment, I didn't think about the church we attend, what my husband believes, or what I've been told by other Christians... Was I sure I wanted to continue to trust Christ until I died, as I was actually dying? By coincidence, as it always happens, I came upon a verse that strengthened my faith and spoke the words that were still there in my heart, my testimony, since I first became a Christian. "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
I thought of another passage then. Once, right after several people stopped following Jesus, he turned to his disciples and asked them, "Will you go to?" Peter answered for them when he said, "Where else will we go? You alone have the words of truth and life. We believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Just like this, something in Jesus' words held me there until I came to have complete confidence in the Bible. I still trust Christ and even given the opportunity to leave, I stay. He alone is still the only source of eternal life I've found. What are my alternatives, really? Do I even have alternatives? Do you? At least from a Biblical perspective, Jesus is IT. "There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
I had faith enough in Christ to die with His name on my lips, but I wasn't dead yet, so, next, I had to know how to live in the meantime! What do I do with my life? Could I pray to be healed?
I was reading a children's story book to Norah and came across a story about a shadow moving backwards up a set of stairs. The story stuck out to me, since it wasn't familiar, like the parting of the Red Sea or the battle of Jericho, so I decided to look it up at it's source in the Old Testament. It happened, as it always does, that the passage answered my question about how to live and pray "in the meantime."
King Hezekiah was sick and the prophet Isaiah brought him bad news... He would not recover and he needed to get his house in order before he died. Hezekiah "turned his head to the wall and prayed" and then "wept bitterly." After that, Isaiah had to go back to Hezekiah with another message entirely. God had seen Hezekiah's tears and decided to let him live. (The shadow on the stairs was a miracle God allowed to prove His latest message was the truth.) After this, the Bible says Hezekiah wrote about his ordeal, which, I just realized, is what I am doing, too! In that passage I found two of the best reasons to ask God to let me live.
Hezekiah told God, "Death does not praise you, those who die do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, thank you, as I do this day. The father makes known to his children your faithfulness."
I wanted to stay alive to keep praising God, to keep hoping for his faithfulness day to day. Of course, people sing praises in Heaven and witness His faithfulness... but, it may actually mean more to God when we sing here. Because, from where we are, praise and hope require faith and "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" and further, "Without faith, it is impossible to please Him." So, how much more does it appeal to God the Father to give us extra time to praise him from Earth? It think that motivates God like nothing else! I know I'd rearrange my plans if Norah asked for more time to tell me how much she loves me! ;)
And, like Hezekiah said just a little later in the passage, I want to be alive so I can be a parent who "makes known to my children God's faithfulness." I want to live to tell Norah about the God I have put my faith in and how He has been faithful to me and to generations of people who came before. What other reasons do we live, except to give praise to God and to tell the people we love all about Him?!