Cystic Fibrosis, the disease that took someone very important to me away. It is a genetic disease that affects the lungs especially, the pancreas, and as well as other organs. Excess mucus in the lungs makes it difficult to breathe, and it is often compared to breathing through a straw. It results in a short life expectancy as well.
My cousin, Big Al, was easily the most special person I have ever known. When I was 11 years old, CF caught up to him faster than I ever expected, and in what seemed like a split second, he was gone from my life.
When I think about what a life truly lived to its fullest looks like, all I can think of is the life Big Al led every single day. He laughed more than anyone I have ever met; while everyone else complained about little inconveniences of daily life, he was just happy to be breathing. It honestly sometimes makes me feel guilty that someone who had so much to complain about never complained, not even once.
I can still hear his voice in my head say, "I'm fine," and I wonder to this day how many times he really meant that statement. He never wanted us to worry, never wanted anyone else to be burdened with his burden. Big Al was the picture of what it means to be selfless. He faced the pain of Cystic Fibrosis head on and never allowed someone else to fight the battle for him.
There is a quote that says, "You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it." I truly believe God chose him to carry Cystic Fibrosis because He knew that Big Al would handle it with strength and grace. From what I could tell, he never feared death, and I know this is because he had a personal relationship with Christ. He trusted the Lord to take care of him until it was time to come home to Him.
I will be completely honest when I say that that call home came much quicker than I ever thought it would. Not that I did not understand the intensity of his disease or his life expectancy, I just had so much trust in the Lord that He would use Big Al as the one to truly beat the odds. Losing him made me realize that God's plan is often not what we expect, but it is always what is best in the end.
I now see that wanting to keep Big Al here was selfish on my part because God was sparing him of his pain on this earth. Now when I think of him, I smile and imagine the moment he finally met the Savior. He gets to breathe in a way he never was able to on earth. He is enjoying his heavenly reward as I type this, and I am forever grateful for that promise and the promise that he and I will reunite in the presence of the Father.
With that being said, the main thing Big Al taught me is how important it is to be ready for the moment you leave this world. I accepted Jesus as my Savior a little over a year before he passed, and this was my only comfort in the time of my grief. I clung (and still do) to the fact that because Big Al and I both knew Jesus, we would see each other again in a much better place. If you have never made that decision to trust your life and eternity with Jesus, His arms are always wide open.