|Photo compliments of Janine Benavidez|
Mike was 45.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
And He said to all, "If any would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Luke 9:23
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:20 - 21
I have only known in my life one person that truly personified those verses.
In 2009, one of our youngest, most energetic ministers was taken to the hospital emergency room with chest pain. He was healthy and athletic. He taught PE at our local high school. This trip to the hospital began a journey that would last the next three years and affect more lives than anyone could have ever anticipated. Mike Storter was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia.
Mike immediately began treatments for his disease and for a short period during these years was considered cancer-free. It was a brief remission, however, and when he exacerbated a few months later nothing would stop it. Not chemo, not bone marrow, nothing. It became apparent that short of a healing miracle of God, Mike was not going to recover. Our church continued to pray, but we were devastated. This would be a second young minister on staff to die of cancer within two years of each other.
Mike could have given in to his illness. I mean, when you have a terminal illness no one will blame you if you don't continue to work and serve. But instead of giving in, he continued to attend church, minister to others and preach. He didn't do anything magnificent or explosive, he just continued to live his life in the face of what everyone else felt was a tragedy. His quiet persistence in his faith touched an untold number of lives.
As he continued to deteriorate, our senior pastor would give him time every Sunday morning to speak to the congregation and tell them what God had shown him the previous week. The notes I have in my Bible from those brief devotionals are priceless to me. As he neared death, his voice left him and he would get very breathless when he spoke - you could barely hear him - but he would struggle to the mic and pray. And the prayers that this man prayed came from somewhere I can only imagine exists. I have never, ever heard anything like it. He also maintained his sense of humor. He could joke about anything and he did so...right up to his funeral...
This picture was taken the last time Mike spoke to our congregation. Wearing his oxygen, barely able to speak above a whisper he talked about his journey through leukemia. At one point in his talk he pointed at himself and said, "In the light of someone else's eternity, what is this?" He was willing to obediently take on the mantle of cancer and death, if it meant someone else might spend eternity with Christ. Three weeks later, he was with Jesus.
Over 1000 people attended his memorial service. Our pastor read from the passage in Philippians 1 where Paul talks about being torn between life and death. I don't know if I will ever attain that. As I sat in that service, my eyes were drawn to the banners at the front of the church that were related to the current sermon series. Mike's casket rested between two banners that read "Make my Life....A Living Sacrifice". Every day, in every way, that is exactly what Mike did. Most pastors try to teach you how to live. Mike showed us how to die.
How does one come to this place? Over the past couple of years, I have struggled with what it means to be totally surrendered to Christ. Not just to give it lip service or to go through the motions, but to just give it all up, lay it all down, whatever He wants. In that, I have thought about what it would mean to sell all and move away, go on the missions field, live without, etc. But what if it meant the ultimate sacrifice? Would I be able to go through an illness unto death with the grace and faith that Mike showed and leave the kind of legacy that he left? I don't think so...not now.
Yes, I am inspired. Inspired to become more like Jesus. Inspired to continue to pursue total surrender. Inspired to deepen my walk. Inspired to reach out to others. Inspired to leave a legacy that glorifies Christ alone.
I said that Mike maintained his sense of humor up to - and including his funeral. These are things everyone should know according to Mike Storter ~ written in his own hand ~ as read by Rev. Tommy Warnock at his memorial service (comments in parenthesis are mine):
Pizza is a breakfast food.
Los sientos means "I'm sorry" in Puerto Rico.
(In a lot of Central FL, too)
Why would you make tea and not put sugar in it?
(People make tea and don't add sugar?)
The Bible is still as relevant as it ever was.
(Yes, it is)
If you are a believer, you need to act like it.
(Yes, you do)
And Mike did.