I've been asked to share a story about my faith at a church conference this morning and I'd like to share the same story with you of a time when I clearly felt God's presence; in fact, we had a very serious conversation!
I grew up Catholic in a small town in Upstate New York, attending weekly mass with my mother out of obligation rather than desire. I never saw my Dad in church, we didn’t own a Bible, and I don’t ever remember a blessing for a meal. When I was 16, I discovered boys and I separated out my “church world” from the “real world.” After all, it was the 70’s and contemporary society demanded that we experience “freedom” in all aspects of our lives.
My father often threatened my mother with physical harm, but she didn’t have the resources to leave him, so she suffered in silence. I escaped my upbringing by going to Oklahoma to College and finished a five year degree without ever finding the Newmann Center or a Catholic Church.
Post-College, I volunteered at a low-income medical clinic and met some doctors and nurses who invited me to their Southern Baptist church. It was the first time I was exposed to the Bible and a Singles Group Fellowship and it was wonderful! I studied hard but soon learned that I wasn’t exactly following the Bible’s teaching in some areas of my life. But just like many of my friends, I wrote it off as ancient scripture, thinking that the Bible just didn’t translate very well for contemporary issues.
I desperately wanted to be married and raise a family and I rocked along through two marriages, thinking that my faith was strong enough to sustain two people in a single union. When I married for a second time, I went back to the Catholic Church honoring my husband’s religion. I was always searching for something but couldn’t identify it. One day I would devote myself to my successful career; the next day I’d plunge myself into my role as a step-mother. I always felt that I wasn’t quite there yet, wasn’t quite good enough. I’d pray and read my Bible alone, but the words became pretty routine and didn’t offer much comfort.
In December 2003, a good friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer. What a wonderful family, they all attended a Southern Baptist Church and did mission work. Their son was 17. I prayed hard and read my Bible and asked God for a cure. The tumors would regress, but then they would return. I became desperate in my prayers, pleading with God for healing. In August 2005, Jason died and I was angry with God. People who had died before in my life were old, disabled, or deserved to die- but Jason didn’t. “Why God, did Jason have to die?” All I heard was, “Jason is my child; his death is part of my plan.” But, I didn’t understand and I couldn’t accept God’s answer. I held a grudge against God because he had wronged me; I became confused with my life.
One year later, I was recuperating from my 2nd breast surgery in 3 weeks. The doctor said not to worry; it wasn’t cancer, just precancerous cells. In August 2006, one year to the day of Jason’s death, I got the call that the initial report was incomplete, I did have breast cancer and would need another surgery. I buried my head in the covers, too overwhelmed to even cry, when I felt a presence in my bedroom; there was no one there. But then I heard a voice, “Jason was willing to die for me, are you?” I knew immediately that I was in the presence of the Lord, and He repeated his question, “Jason was willing to die for me, are you?” I was still angry with God over Jason’s death and I asked for more time, “Can I think about it and get back with you?” But the question dwelled on my mind. After fitfully sleeping for 2 hours, I awoke with a clear answer and summoned the Lord, “Yes, I am willing to die for you.”
Over the next few weeks, I underwent test after test to determine the extent of the cancer, convinced that I had less than 6 months to live. I had two positive lymph nodes, but no other evidence of cancer outside of the original tumor. I was scheduled for my third surgery and learned that with treatment, I had an excellent chance to be cured.
I went back to the Lord. “I’m confused; it appears that I may live much longer than six months. Why did you ask me if I was willing to die for you?”
The Lord answered, “I needed to know if you are for me or against me. Now that you believe in your heart that you are willing to give up your life for me at any time, you will not die in the next few months. I have work for you to do on my behalf and I need you on Earth to be my eyes, my hands, and my feet.”
“Really? You need me to do something for you? What is it you need me to do?”
The Lord said, “Right now, I need you to heal and get well. Love me and feel my healing power. I’ll let you know when I need you to do something else.”
It hasn’t been all easy since then. I had an 8 week dry spell in 2008 when God said, “You have some issues that you need to deal with. I will be protecting you, but you need to work through them on your own. Let me know when you’ve thought through them." He even said, “You’re copping out by praying to me all the time; I’ve already given you the answers in my Word. It’s just that you don’t want to follow my commands. “ God was right, I was still struggling with my favorite sins.
But right now my life is easy. Each day I get up and say, “God, what do you need me to do for you today?” Some days it is to write a note of encouragement to a friend, other days it is to make sure that I am a good Christian example in my workplace, and other days, God says, “Take the day off! Go have fun with your friends!”
All God wanted all along was me: to be willing to die for him and to trust Him in everything. Each day God has a slightly different plan, but I trust Him and I go to Him first every morning.
I have other stories about my running conversation with God and even two run-ins I’ve had with Satan. I’ve got even more stories about the wonderful people of St. George’s who continue to reinforce my faith and are my family, but those stories will need to wait for another day.
I believe that one question in August 2006 has made the difference in my life, “Are you willing to die for me?”
And, today, He has the same question for you, “Are you willing to die for me?”
Thanks for your time today.