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The Spirit of Fear
- May 25, 2017
- Jessie Tucker Mitchell
If you follow my blogs, you know that my sister Christie died of cancer last September. The last weeks of her life were spent at a hospice home in Greensboro. The staff was amazing, but my memories of her time there haunt me. I can’t lie and say that they don’t. Sometimes I remember how she would sit and stare out the window, at the vibrant flowers on the other side of the glass, the families congregating in the garden, the cars passing on the road in the distance, and I imagine what she must have been thinking, how scared she must have felt, and all I can do is lower my head and cry. Other times I remember how she was so hungry, yet the cancer in her colon prevented her from ever truly eating a complete meal, and how in her last days I would feed her soggy bites of cereal, one piece at a time, until she became too weak to even swallow the milk. I remember when I found out she died, on a Friday morning after coming home for lunch, and I immediately started going through the motions: writing her obituary, attending her funeral, acknowledging to others that she was in “a better place,” but not really feeling the full effect of her absence until weeks later, when it hit me cruelly and very hard. I mentioned to my friend Jennifer at church that I just couldn’t stop thinking about how terrified Christie must have felt in her last days, and she responded, “We never know what kind of grace God gives people at the end.” In the months since then, as autumn turned to winter, and then spring arrived in its brilliant glory, I clung to this hope, praying it was true for my sister.
We are not meant to fear death, and honestly, I didn’t until my sister died, and then anxiety crept in. What if death was excruciatingly painful? What if I died soon, and left behind four children who needed me and quite possibly wouldn’t really remember me by the time they were adults? What if I never got to see if Elsa went to law school, or if Fletcher became a chef, or how Truman used his amazing gift for compassion to help others? What if Archer, only two years old, completely forgot his real mom? My sadness didn’t seem unusual for someone who had lost her sister, but I couldn’t seem to shake it, which frustrated me because I hate feeling that I can’t control something, even my feelings. But I had to admit: I did fear death. I did not want to die and miss out on so much.
I spoke to God often for comfort, kept waiting to feel it, but it came only in small sparks before fizzling out and leaving me again in the blackness that fear brings. Then one day, as I was driving home, with my toddler in his car seat behind me, I heard a voice – speaking words so clearly it took me several moments to realize it was my son’s. Archer was at the stage where he talked to himself sometimes, so I didn’t think it was unusual to hear him now – until I realized what he was saying. He was singing, and not one of the simple songs I had taught him at bedtime, like “Jesus Loves Me” or “You Are My Sunshine.” No, he was singing along with the song on the radio, saying the words as clearly as if hearing them were part of his daily routine: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
I was so surprised, I actually hit the brakes. How did Archer know the words to this song? Yes, we listened to this radio station every day, but how could a two year old, who’d had a language delay and had only really started speaking a few weeks before, remember these lyrics – and how could he pronounce every syllable so clearly? And why had he memorized this particular song? This Bible verse from Philippians 1:21, incorporated into a song by the Sidewalk Prophets, had never really struck me as unique. Of all the verses I’d read, it wasn’t in my top ten, or twenty, or honestly even my top 100 favorite. But hearing Archer say it, with the sweetness of a child just finding his voice, made me really think about the words and their meaning. I felt they were a message: Living here on earth can mean living without fear, because I know Christ. And death? Death truly does represent a gain, because it means my spirit will be made perfect. It means I will be at peace. I will go home.
I can’t say I stopped feeling afraid immediately that day, or that my memories of my sister’s last days stopped affecting me; I am, after all, still human. But the fear did subside immensely, and I could shake it off each time I recalled that Bible verse, and how it sounded coming from my child. ”For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” So now I have a new favorite verse, and really, my toddler couldn’t have taught it to me at a more perfect time.