I've been a Christian my entire life.
I never had a mountaintop moment or a life-changing conversion. My faith was ingrained in me by my family from the beginning. My grandparents fled the Turks during the Genocide and settled in Syria. My parents grew up in the same village in Aleppo but connected in Kuwait. My father sang in church and my mother was a Sunday school teacher.
I grew up going to Sunday school, then to youth group. In eighth grade I wrote a statement of faith, deciding for myself and then verbalizing what I believed and why I believed it. My faith informed my identity and, although I certainly wasn't perfect, I always loved Jesus.
And then, tragedy struck my family.
At the end of 1995 my mother was diagnosed with Scleroderma. It was a disease I had never heard of, and it hit her hard. She died eight months later at the age of 49. I was 22.
My mother's illness and death left me utterly devastated. My grief was overwhelming. In those moments - when the visitors stop coming and the emptiness hits you in the face again and again - I realized something. My faith was at a crossroads.
My grief was something I could not handle on my own. I knew then that I was at a fork in the road of my faith and I had to make a choice: either I would run TO God or I would run AWAY from Him. That was it. I had to choose.
I knew I couldn't face my pain on my own. I also knew I didn't want to become self-destructive or turn to alcohol or drugs. I knew I didn't want to drown.
So I ran to Him - straight into His arms.
His comfort, while always there, felt immediate. It was an assurance that He had me in His grip. There was no way He'd let me go. His anchor was in His Word, as He gave me this verse through Paul in Philippians 1:21 -
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
I can't describe the incredible comfort this short verse brought me. There is no death in Christ. My mother was not forever lost. I could live in Christ and death would only bring gain. In Christ, we have a win-win situation. Death did not mean THE END.
In Christ, the only things that ended were my suffering, my brokenness, and my fear. My mother lived for Christ, and her death brought her a massive gain - eternity with Him.
I have clung to this verse for the past 20 years. It has become my mantra. I fail a lot, but this verse always realigns my path. I don't fear death anymore. Not when there's so much to gain.