In the grand scheme of things, Ben Breedlove's story wouldn't seem to matter much. Two weeks ago, he was just another teen who enjoyed music, hanging out with his friends at the lake, and posting youtube videos. And yet, Ben Breedlove matters a great deal. His life, which ended tragically short on Christmas night, is inspiring millions around the world.
As it turns out, he also goes to my church, which has brought a lot of media attention. It's a large church, and I did not know Ben Breedlove or his family personally. I certainly feel I missed out. But I have a friend who is a youth minister who did know him, as well as my pastor. They now find themselves thrust in the spotlight to tell not just Ben's story, but God's story and the significance it holds for each of us.
If you are not familiar with Ben Breedlove, he has become an internet sensation. Ben passed away at the age of 18 from a heart attack due to a genetic condition which he had lived with most of his life. Before his passing, Ben's heart shut down several times, the latest at school on December 6, 2011. He stopped breathing for three minutes before he was revived. During that time, he witnessed what is clinically called a near-death experience and made a video describing what he saw and felt. The video has gone viral and received almost two million hits.
Ben admits in the video that he didn't want to leave that peaceful place, what could be described as his own personal glimpse into heaven. Then he asks on a notecard, "Do you believe in angels or God?" and answers for himself. "I do." While the theme of the video is "cheating death", Ben could not have known God would call him home a few days later, on Christmas no less. I have little doubt that if Ben could describe his final transcendence to heaven with us, it would be in the most peaceful and beautiful imagery imaginable.
It's a cliche to say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and yet I can find no other words to describe this. Because Ben told his story, because of the video he posted on youtube (which was an afterthought encouraged by a friend), because Ben shared his testimony and challenged our perceptions of life after death, he has become famous. But more importantly, he has impacted countless lives by delivering a message of hope and grace.
The powerful message Ben delivered to us will touch people for a long time to come, far longer than the 18 years Ben spent touching lives here on earth. Ben was gracious enough to allow God to use him for a greater purpose than most of us could suspect.
You can imagine if an ordinary teenage kid had kept these visions to himself. You can imagine if Ben had kept quiet, rather than face possible ridicule and skepticism. You can imagine if he had gone on like nothing happened. The whole world would have missed out on a beautiful message. But Ben didn't, because Ben wasn't ordinary. He aspired to reveal the Christ within him, as C.S. Lewis would say, to share God's love and hope for humanity. He shared his story and it mattered. Just like all of our journeys matter to God.
Ben's story has given me comfort. I have a four year old nephew who has spent the last year going through cancer treatment. He has had brain surgery, radiation, and four doses of chemo, along with stem cell therapy. His cancer may be in remission, but it is too early to tell for sure. The whole year has been a struggle, but we have always focused on the positives. God is good, and even when bad things happen, God uses them to do good in the world.
We hope my nephew is cancer-free. We feel blessed that he hasn't had a seizure (after as many as 40 a day) since the tumor was removed from his brain. But rather than stress and worry about it, we choose to thank God for each precious moment.
Someday those precious moments will be gone for each of us with every loved one we know. Thank you, Ben Breedlove, for reminding us that God has a greater purpose for our lives than we could ever imagine. Sometimes the little things, like sharing our personal journey of faith in a video, turn out to be quite big indeed.