Culture

What if I die young?

Chan See Ting // July 15, 2020, 6:34 pm

What if I die young - Featured 02

Image source: Taken from the artiste's (Grant Imahara, Mark Salling, Naya Rivera, Cory Monteith) respective Facebook pages

Update (November 22, 2020): See Ting is currently on oral chemotherapy after the discovery of leptomeningeal disease in October. She recently shared her story with Mothership. We’re continuing to pray for Seets and her loved ones under the hashtag #ABETTERTING.

The recent passing of Glee star Naya Rivera, 33, who tragically drowned while swimming in a Californian lake, came as a shock to many young people of my generation who grew up watching the well-loved musical television series.

She is the third death from the original Glee cast. In 2013, lead actor Cory Monteith, 31, died suddenly from a drug overdose. Five years later, co-star Mark Salling, 35, took his own life.

On the same day Rivera’s missing body was finally found, July 13, 2020, Grant Imahara, one of the co-hosts on popular Discovery channel show Mythbusters, reportedly passed away following a brain aneurysm. He was 49.

Many have expressed their disbelief over the deaths of Rivera and Imahara; as I write this, my social media newsfeed has been flooded with friends lamenting the loss of young life.

Our responses to the death of young people reveal something about our attitudes towards mortality. We often use words like “untimely” and “gone too soon” to express our shock and regret at the years lost.

It hits us extra hard because to some extent we have internalised the fallacy that death would only come knocking much later when we have a head full of whites.

And as a 27-year-old who has had two near-death experiences, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it shouldn’t have to take the death of another young person or a personal brush with death for us to consider how we are living.

THE FIRST TIME I ALMOST DIED YOUNG

You probably have heard about my cancer story but that was, in fact, not my first brush with death.

I almost died when I was 19.

It happened in my first semester as a freshman, when I had begun to stray from the faith. Coming from a deeply conservative and sheltered background, the tantalising experiences that university had to offer were so alluring that I was willing to give up my faith for it.

I was so utterly convinced that God was a boring, old-fashioned dude who hated fun and was holding me back from living my best life.

I’m in my prime, I told my mentor. I want to go out and “see the world”.

I can always come back to this God thing later.

And so a life of debauchery ensued. Partying, drinking, smoking, sex. I felt that I was finally doing YOLO right.

Until one night.

Cigarettes, alcohol and a bad relationship later …

I can still remember that night vividly. Five of us had agreed to go for supper together, and within minutes we had hopped into a car, excitedly chatting about where to go.

It was like any other normal night where we would head out to grab food to satisfy our midnight hunger pangs.

But that night, as we were turning out of the campus carpark, my friend suddenly lost control of the car and we began rolling down the slope. At the end of this slope was a huge drain.

Some people experience their lives flashing past their eyes in the moments right before their vehicles crash. But for me, I completely blanked out. 

I couldn’t think or scream or do anything. It felt like time just slowed down as I waited for the inevitable end.

Is a crisis really necessary for us to remember God?

We ended up smashing the car head-first into a tree, just meters before the drain. The entire front hood was crushed and engulfed in smoke, with the alarms blaring so loudly that it cut through the silence of the night.

People were streaming out of their hostels to see what had happened.

The car was wrecked. But the miracle of it all was that we all escaped unharmed. Visibly shaken, but not a single scratch on our bodies. We even sat down for a “debrief” of what had just happened, talking about how lucky we were that none of us were injured.

But the moment I returned to my hostel room, I began to weep uncontrollably. I was finally registering the shock of everything and how close I had come to losing my life.

I knew it wasn’t luck that saved me. It was God.

And the most pertinent thought that kept coming back to me was this: I keep saying my faith can wait. But what if it can’t?

I knew I had a decision to make. I knew in my spirit that I couldn’t press the pause button on my faith any longer.

That very weekend, I went back to church.

And this could only be God’s doing because that very service turned out to be an evangelistic one, and the sermon was on the Prodigal Son

Every single word went straight to my heart – I was that younger son who squandered all my inheritance, only to find that at the end of it, I was met with my Father’s extravagant love.

The tears couldn’t stop flowing.

At the end of the service, there was a presentation of the song, Coming Home.

I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world that I’m coming home
Let the rain wash away all the pain from yesterday
I know my kingdom awaits and they’ve forgiven my mistakes
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Tell the world that I’m coming, home

By the time the song ended, I was on my knees in repentance. God and His angels must have been rejoicing in Heaven. The prodigal daughter had returned home.

YOU HAVE TO LOSE YOUR LIFE TO FIND IT

No one would have expected that 7 years after that first brush with death, I would have another. But it was an entirely different experience.

I’m not going to underplay the shock and pains of being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at the age of 26, but what I can tell you is this: I was able to look death in the face without shrinking in fear.

How is God still good if I have breast cancer at 26?

At that time, many asked me if I was afraid of dying. I wasn’t. Not only because God had already spoken to me that He was going to deliver me from my sickness, but also because I trust in the promise of Heaven. I knew where I was headed if I did die.

Yes, I was fully aware that I would still have had regrets if I had died then. Regrets of not being able to fulfil my desire of having my own family, of not righting certain wrongs, and most importantly, of not feeling like I had completed the full calling God had on my life.

It was sobering. But it further emboldened me to live my life in the true YOLO way – for Christ and His purposes.

What I find to be especially precious about a near-death experience is that it puts everything in perspective.

The first time I came close to death revealed that should I have died then, my regrets weren’t about not partying harder, but that I had waited too long to make room for God. The second time served to further reinforce the message that this life would be wasted if it’s not lived for Christ.

What is the lie that promises you life but is in fact holding you back from it?

The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl (Matthew 13:44-46) tell us that the Kingdom of Heaven requires our giving up of what is precious to us, including what we believe would grant us the fullness of life.

The Apostle Paul also further expounds on this message in Philippians 3:8, saying that he counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

Renowned missionary Jim Elliot had this to say as well: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

What are you unwilling to give up today? What is the lie that promises you life but is in fact holding you back from it?

Would you give up what you love most?

I have come to recognise that more often than not we turn our backs on God because we perceive that the world promises things that He doesn’t.

But the truth is this: the Father Himself withholds nothing good from us (Matthew 7:11, Psalm 84:11), and we know this because He went to the extent of exchanging His only Son’s life for ours (John 3:16).

More often than not we turn our backs on God because we perceive that the world promises things that He doesn’t.

That is the very truth you need to discover for yourself today. And it is imperative that you begin right away, because, in case you don’t already know, your tomorrow is not guaranteed.

I hope you can catch the heart behind what I’m saying. This is not meant to be a doom and gloom message, rather it is written with the intention to remind you of the reality that you don’t have an unlimited offer on this thing called time.

And I don’t wish for you to only come to that realisation when you are face-to-face with death, because for some, they don’t get another opportunity at life again.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

Life is fragile and precious, we say. Don’t take things for granted. We know this.

But the truth is that we plan for tomorrow as if waking up is a given. We tell friends, “See you soon!”, believing that we will somehow eventually make time for each other.

And we say to God, “I’ll choose You next time” because we know that His arms are always open towards us.

But what if there is no “tomorrow”? What if “soon” is not soon enough? And what if there isn’t a “next time” before we breathe our final breath?

What do we want to see at the end of our lives?

You see, the thing about death isn’t that we don’t know it’s coming for us. It’s that we don’t think it’s coming for us, yet.

The psalmist, King David, has this to say:

The life of mortals is like grass,
They flourish like a flower of the field;
The wind blows over it and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
(Psalm 103:15-16)

How fleeting is this life! How short, transient, and unpredictable, that we may be here today but gone tomorrow. Shouldn’t that teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom to guide us in our way of life (Psalm 90:12)?

I’ve had the privilege of being rescued by His grace twice, and I can tell you this:

My first near-death experience showed me that I thought I was living fully, but I wasn’t. And the second one showed me that even though I was staring death in its face, I have never been more alive.

I write this piece mainly with young people in mind, many of whom, like my younger self, have found Christianity to be boring and lame, and the Bible to be just a rule book of do’s and don’ts.

Even though I was staring death in its face, I have never been more alive.

Hear the plea of someone who has gone before: Do not, in your attempt to find life, stray from the very One who gives. You will not find it.

In the words of the inimitable Charles Spurgeon, “To live entirely for the Lord is to live indeed, all else is merely existing.”

And that is my prayer for you today, that you will no longer delay your living for the sake of mere existence.

Come home, my friends.

FOR MORE OF SEE TING’S STORIES:

I lost all my hair to illness – but God gave it back to me overnight

What it takes to love a girl with cancer

“It feels better to be loving than to be right”: Redeeming the lost years with my father

THINK + TALK

  1. What have your thoughts been on the news of early deaths?
  2. What are your thoughts on death and where you’re going after you die?
  3. Would you say you’re living the fullest life right now? Why or why not?
  4. What decisions must you make in order to live fully and without regret?

If you would like to invite Jesus into your heart to be your personal Lord and Saviour, say this prayer:

Dear Jesus,

I’m sorry for the things I’ve done in my life. I’m sorry that I’ve sinned against you.

Thank you for dying on the Cross, paying the price for my sins.

Please come into my heart and into my life. I acknowledge that you are my Lord and Saviour.

I pray all this in Jesus’ name,
Amen.