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If I am not willing to die, am I prepared to live?
This question coursed through my mind as I boarded the flight for Sao Miguel, an island in the Portuguese archipelago of the Azores. It wasn’t flying that scared me. It was what I had just learned that was unnerving.
A news flash had alerted viewers only minutes earlier that hurricane Ophelia was brewing in the Atlantic and heading for the isle. It would be the tenth hurricane this year, following Harvey, Irma and Maria whose intensity had killed many and stripped other millions of basic needs.
I can’t lie. Dark thoughts haunted me, my heart raced and the plane’s cabin seemed to shrink.
Scenes from other recent disasters flooded my mind. Earthquake in Mexico City. Sniper in Las Vegas. Bombing in Somalia. Wildfires in California and Portugal.
Each incident a catastrophe with staggering loss of life and property. No way to prepare. No prior warning. Precious lives, like mist, gone. Families ripped apart. Grief simply piling up with no time to heal.
Seated on the plane for six hours, I had occasion to ponder. I thought about what would happen if I became a casualty. Yes, I went there. I plumbed the depth of my fear and tried to grasp any thread of truth to anchor my soul. I wanted to feel safe.
Lulled by the steady drone of jet engines, I finally relaxed. Then a thought drifted into my consciousness like a whisper. “You are a wildflower, here today and gone tomorrow. Your life is but a vapor”.
This wasn’t the anchor I had in mind. I wanted reassurance of my worth and a promise of deliverance. Instead, God was highlighting my vulnerability.
On the heels of this word, came another . “You were crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in you.”
Crucified with Christ and no longer alive? What!??
Here I was coming to Him because I was afraid to die, and He was reminding me I already had.
When I gave my life to Christ, I died to my old self and became new. Death to resurrection. If what scripture says is true, then I am already seated in heaven. This makes me a stranger here on earth.
Throughout the Bible, the message is clear. Life is fragile. I am here today and gone tomorrow. I have the Spirit as the Comforter, but no promise of a pain free life. I am exhorted to measure my days well and live them, by faith, one at a time. Rather than holding tightly to things and loved ones, I am commanded to love no person, or thing, above God. I’m urged to count the cost. Carry the cross. Bear others burdens. Follow Christ’s example and fix my eyes on heaven.
Those who live this way have hearts tethered to a heavenly home that can never be shaken, no matter the storm. In my meager grasp for security, I couldn’t perceive God’s offer of freedom. My mind was trying to attach itself to this earth, making my burden heavier and fear more entrenched.
It was there, on a plane careening over the Atlantic, wedged between the window and a snoring passenger, I realized I haven’t really been living. I have been surviving. Hunkered down, protecting life and limb, holding on to what was never mine.
Maybe that is why the Bible exhorts us to be born again; to die in order to resurrect, discarding what is old for the new life to come. Life, real life, doesn’t become abundant unless a seed falls to the ground and dies.
How, then, do I live with the fact my life is merely vapor? I believe it is by embracing the spiritual truth I am already of another world. This truth doesn’t hold me down but sets me free to soar.
If my life is not my own and I was purchased for a price, then it’s really not about me. Today is a gift. It’s all I have. My proper response is gratitude. There is no promise of tomorrow, but I have been given instructions for today.
Love God and others well. Hold things lightly. Be thankful. Be generous. Forgive readily. Obey God. Let myself be poured out like a drink offering for the faith of others. Simple.
I made it to Sao Miguel, and so did Ophelia. In the end, the winds weren’t as strong as expected, nor the rain as intense. The storm eventually passed, but the lesson remained.
I am a stranger and alien in this world and there will always be tension between the visible and the unseen, the now and not yet, until I am finally Home.
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4