Dying for Purpose: The Talk

Micah McElveenBy Micah McElveen19 Minutes

Excerpt from Dying for Purpose: Light for the Lost | Directions for the Found by Micah McElveen

Under the cricket’s song, we dream. We dream of swimming in the deepest parts of the sea without need of air. We fly and we float. We smile as we run. The sick dream of health, the imprisoned dream of being free. Dream is where imagination and reality are no longer at odds. Anything is possible when we dream. There are no obstacles or failures. No shortcomings to overcome. Opportunity awakes once our eyelids close. But what do you do when your dream becomes a nightmare?

As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a star athlete. If you asked me, I had the skills, the aura, the height, and the swagger needed to take my rightful place among legends of the playing field. It was in the cards; I just didn’t know what was written on the other cards in the deck. Life took a turn too fast, and I hit the railings. The pain was so real, I could no longer tell if I was sleeping or awake.

Was it really a dream? Sometimes, I close my eyes and try to remember. This is what I see.

A little boy sits at a small rectangular table in a room painted a blinding white. There are two chairs, one on each side. The room has no doors, except for the one that opens when God walks in.

God motions for the child to take a seat. He wants to talk.

“What kind of life do you want?” God asks the boy. “Who do you want to be? Tell me the desires of your heart.” God hands the boy a sharp pencil and a yellow notepad.

“Start writing, my child.”

For the next hour, the boy writes down everything one could imagine a person would want on this earth. To be born into a wealthy family, to have the best of friends, to be a star athlete—the light-skinned Deion Sanders to be exact. To outrun Bo Jackson and outpitch Nolan Ryan. It is a list of dreams. He wants to surf, ride horses, and have a wonderful big brother who doesn’t get on his nerves. The boy wants his parents to be healthy, to take memorable family vacations, and to have a wonderful church family of which he would be a part.

The list is honorable. After one hour of the boy’s writing, God nods and smiles.

“Is that all my child?” He asks.

Lifting his eyes to the ceiling the boy tries to think of anything he might have left off this all-important list. Seldom does one have an opportunity to present their requests, not through prayer to God, but to God Himself sitting at the table. What an awesome moment. He searches his mind for another request but decides he has thought of it all. “That is all,” the boy says.

He lays the pencil to rest next to God’s nail-scarred hand.

God doesn’t say a word. He simply looks down and stares at the notepad. When He looks up, there are tears in His eyes. God takes the pencil in his own hand and writes one sentence to represent all He wants for the boy’s life.

The sentence says, “You must die.”

The boy’s neck rushes warm. His eyes fill with tears. Why would God write such a thing on paper, knowing His will must be done? There is no appellate court for His verdict. The boy wonders. If He loves me so, why would He wish such a tragedy? Why would I be born if my destiny was to die?

The boy’s list is soaked with tears. Sobbing, he covers his face. But then, he glances over to find the sentence God wrote was also soaked in tears. God was crying, too.

Reaching across the table, God takes the boy’s hand, pressing it tightly in a way that seems to say everything is going to be okay, but the child isn’t convinced. Through tears and with a broken voice the boy asks a few questions.

“Is there . . . is there another path I can take?” Without hesitation, God replies, “No, my child.”

“But God,” the little boy pleads, “my death will bring pain to all who love me and trust you.”

“It will indeed.” Taking the boy’s other hand, God explains the pathway to faith. “All we desire comes from all we do not. Purpose, mission, and eternal life come from death. Not always a physical death, but the death of your will, and fleshly desires not aligned with my plan for your life. Even I had to submit to this pathway. Salvation could not reign down from a perfect throne. I climbed into the valley of earth and touched all struggles that would eventually touch you. I died so you could live.”

Then God continues, “All you have requested will be yours one day, but it will come to you once certain experiences have gone through you, experiences you would never write on your list. One day, millions will hear your voice, a voice gathering its power from the pain of traveling an undesirable path. Your life will become dark, and trials will nearly crush your spirit. Yet, you will not be crushed. You will feel what I felt. You will think I have turned my back on you, just as I thought my Father turned His back on me. It is at that very moment when I am closest. My plan for your life is great. My love for you is greater.”

The boy cries uncontrollably. Shaking, he raises his hand to ask one last question of the Master, but He is gone. God’s chair is empty.

The room begins to shake. The light swings back and forth. A voice shouts, “Micah,

Micah! Get up!”

My brother, Boyce, had a frustrated grip around my shoulders. Seems he’d been calling me for a while.

“Time to go,” he said, sounding confused and concerned.

I jumped up, negotiating the football under my arm and nearly tripping over a basketball next to the surfboard. Yes, I slept with a football. I did so because when my dad was a receiver in college, he also slept with the pigskin. He said it made his hands softer, which allowed him to catch better. I would take the game ball to bed every night, believing it would enhance my ability to perform on the field.

Our home was an athletic incubator for future greatness, and I was naturally gifted. As a quick example, in baseball there are 18 outs in a six-inning game in a state tournament. I had 15 strikeouts as a pitcher against a team we were never supposed to beat. Sorry, but I love talking about sports! I wanted to be on ESPN. I wanted my name in lights, pure and simple, and I mean big lights. I was pretty addicted to the idea of fame.

Boyce was getting me up because this was our day to go to the ocean. We had been waiting to surf for weeks.

But the dream . . . what an odd dream that was.

I moved it to the back of my mind and concentrated on the waves to catch. The sun was out, so it was time for fun, and lots of it. My brother and I got into surfing years earlier while living in California. However, we lived in Florida now, and there weren’t many rideable waves in the Sunshine State, but we’d found a workaround.

When hurricanes would form, the storm system would kick up surf, and for a moment, you would think Florida was on the west coast. We would grab our boards and surf ahead of the coming storm. I guess you could say we were surf chasers. On this day, October 9, 1995, Hurricane Roxanne was forming in the Gulf of Mexico. While everyone else fled the beach, we ran toward it. I was 15.

Our excitement persuaded Dad to drop us off in the beach parking lot. In our minds, we would run the rest of the way. Watching us, you would think somebody shot a starter gun in the Olympic track and field. We sprinted toward the water as if gold was up for grabs.

I got there first and picked out what I thought was the perfect spot to dive in. The spot was a breaking point. Some kind of obstruction under the surface caused a wave to break, making it form a barreling, tubular shape in the water. Perfect for surfing. The only thing left to do was jump into the break and ride the wave.

I dove in but quickly realized something wasn’t right. Before hitting the water, I remember putting my arms behind my back, closing my eyes, and pretending to be a silver dolphin. Back then, I always had visions of transforming into something greater than myself. I hit the wave just like I had a thousand times before, but something was not right.

A shock rushed through my body. The only way I can describe it is physical and emotional confusion. Instinctively, I knew to be still, but the momentum of my dive carried me deeper into the water.

I was facedown, drifting, and groggy. I was trying to figure out what was going on.

Where was Boyce?

I know he sees me. My brother always sees me. He’s right over there. He’ll get me soon.

The wave rolled me over, then rolled me over again and again. I tried to breathe but couldn’t.

My face was underwater, looking up.

The surface was right there, but I couldn’t reach it.

I saw colorful prisms leaking through the surface.

I felt calm for a moment, but then I began to panic. Everything was quiet, but I was screaming inside.

I was fading. I was fading in and out.

Where is Boyce?

Is someone coming for me?

Does my brother know I’m hurt?


      My lungs are burning.

“Swim!” I thought to myself. “Swim!”

I’d grown up with a tremendous fear of drowning. As a kid, I’d rather be burned, shot, or any number of things other than drown. To be consciously held underwater created a terrible mental picture for me.

I’m under water now, not believing it was actually going to end this way.

In times of trauma, the mind is surprisingly clear. I started to think, slowly at first.

Will my mom be okay?

Then, who is going to get my stuff when I’m gone? Is it really going to end this way?

My greatest fear was coming true. I am alive, I am conscious. I am drowning. I tried to move my arms. They wouldn’t move.

I opened my mouth to suck in air but got water instead. Someone was pulling down the shades in the sky.

Everything grew dark, grainy. I could see the fiery backs of my eyelids.

Where is Boyce? He saw me dive in. Though I didn’t know it at the time, Boyce had turned around to grab a football. A minute later, he was back at the spot where I’d jumped in, but I wasn’t there.

“Micah, Micah!” he called out. No answer.

He thought I was playing a joke. “Micah!” he called again.

Something was not right.

Boyce looked in the water, seeing nothing. He began looking in the bushes. Little did he know, I was caught in a longshore current.

My body was being pulled under.

I was flailing, but he couldn’t hear me.

I was drowning, but he couldn’t see me. My parents walked up to us after parking the car. From a distance, they saw Boyce moving in a strange manner. My father sped his walk to a trot, then a run, and yelled from a distance.

“What’s going on?”

“Micah dove in, but I don’t see him,” Boyce answered. “He never came up.”

“Boy, don’t play.” My father was upset, hoping my brother was playing a cruel joke. “Micah didn’t come out,” Boyce said.

Frantically, my parents began searching.

One minute passed.

Three minutes.

Five minutes.

Nearly one-hundred yards away, a stranger standing in a shallow pool of water lifted up a limp arm and dropped it. The stranger thought he saw a body. He did . . . he saw me. I was dead.

When my mother realized the limp body in the distance was her son, she screamed in a voice waking heaven and hell.

“God! Don’t take my son! Don’t take my son!”

My father sprinted down the beach toward the man holding the limp arm. He pulled my lifeless body out of shallow water. I had no heartbeat, no pulse. Dead.

My brother and mom ran to the nearest house and called 911. When the EMTs arrived, they found my dad trying to bring me back to life. His mouth was around mine, sucking out water, mucous, and seaweed. Spitting and repeating.

“Don’t you give up on me, boy!” He would not let me go without a fight.

Twenty minutes later, a team kneeled next to me, fighting for my life. A helicopter cratered the beach, and I was life-flighted eighty miles south to Tampa General Hospital. My family was in the car, racing to the hospital. My parents, sitting in a pale hospital waiting room, looked at each other and had the most honest, gut-wrenching conversation a mother and a father can have.

Speaking through tears, both accepted it was unlikely I would regain life. Holding hands, they made a covenant.

No matter what happens, we give God the glory.

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