When I was 25 and working as an editor at an art magazine in New York City, I came down with a mysterious illness. For several weeks doctors couldn’t figure out what it was – test after test revealed nothing, despite my worsening symptoms: searing headaches, blurred vision, twitching, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, severe nausea. Once a long-distance runner, I didn’t have the energy to walk to the mailbox or lift my arms to brush my hair. Riding Metro North for an hour to my job in the city and working 50 hours a week was out of the question, so I took a leave of absence from work and moved back in with my parents.
Each night, limbs splayed, window open to the stifling August heat, I’d lay gripping the sides of the twin bed in my parents’ guest bedroom, paralyzed by the fear that I was dying. I was convinced I’d be dead by the end of the year. In my mind there was no other explanation – no one, I reasoned, could feel like I did and survive.
The absolute low point was the night I crawled into my parents’ bed and slept between them. I was 25 years old and sleeping with my mother and father like a three-year-old.
I eventually recovered from the illness, but the fear of death that had dogged me since childhood and intensified during the year I was sick never abated. More than ten years after that illness, married and the mother of two children, I continued to lay awake nearly every night gripped by the fear of death.
I still think about dying from time to time, but not the way I used to. I don’t obsess over it any more. It doesn’t keep me awake at night, sheets balled in my fists, eyes wide at the ceiling. Nor do I believe that when I die, I will simply cease, that my body will be put into the ground, end of story. While I can’t quite envision what eternal life will look like, on most days I believe in my heart that it exists.
I tell you this story today, the day after Easter, for one reason: to give you hope.
It may be that you know someone lost, unmoored, hopeless. Someone who feels the talons of death grip tight. Someone who doubts or downright doesn’t believe.
It may even be that that someone is you.
My story isn’t dramatic or exciting. There’s no sky-splitting, fall-to-my-knees conversion. I never heard the voice of God or felt the presence of Jesus come suddenly into my life. I didn’t escape death or overcome insurmountable odds. This transformation from fear to hope, from death to life, unfolded slowly and uneventfully over a period of years. Truth be told, it’s still unfolding, this process of God replacing my heart of stone.
My story is pretty mundane, as far as conversion stories go. Yet it’s a story of hope and truth nonetheless. I am free from the power of death. With His death, the power of death over me is no more.
I pray you know that hope and truth in your heart, too.
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