I write often about God weaving stories of redemption in our lives. Tapestries of beauty and grace. Purpose from pain, beauty from ashes, and life from death. Even in the valleys of my worst heartaches I whisper over my doubts, “He must know what He’s doing…” because my faith is deeply rooted in the God who has revealed His character to me over and over and who I’ve fallen madly in love with. I have a new story of redemption to tell. I’ve waited 7 months to tell it, because it is so precious and personal and close to my heart that every time I think about it I am left speechless and can’t find the right words.
In May of 2012 I collapsed on the floor of my house and died suddenly. Most everyone already knows or lived through this story, but for those that may not know, you can read about it HERE. It is a well-known, widely-spread story that literally thousands of people know about and were praying for me during those days and have rejoiced in the miracle the past 2 years. But another story was unfolding at the same time that nobody saw. A greater miracle. A quiet story of redemption, of unrelenting love, and amazing grace.
While I was in a coma, one of the people sitting by me in the hospital was my mother, Peggy, who flew down from Boston when my husband called her. “My mother”… 2 little words loaded with back-story and emotion. As a child, my mother was my hero. She was the best mother. She taught me about God. She laid the foundation that my life has been built on. When God tugged at my little 4 year old heart, and I prayed to ask Him to be my Savior, my mother was the one beside me. She was the one who taught me so much about the big things like God and faith as well as the everyday life things like how to braid my hair and how to figure out math fractions. I watched her so closely, because I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. When I was 14, my 3 year old sister was diagnosed with Leukemia, and our family was rocked. A few years later my sister’s cancer was in remission, but my mother was so changed, I didn’t even recognize her. I can’t put it into words other than to say my mother had died and was replaced by a woman I did not know. I grieved the loss and prayed hard for her for so many years. 21 years. Sometimes I had no hope left, and the best I could do was attempt to forge a new relationship with the woman she had become and love her no matter what. I begged God to please show my mother who He really is and to restore her life and her joy. I begged Him not give up on her and to give her eyes to see His love. The damage and rift between us was always present in my heart. As a struggling teenager I didn’t want to forgive her for changing… for not being the mother I so desperately loved and needed… for being someone different that I struggled mightily to connect with. I wrestled with God over it for so many years and carried it into adulthood. I eventually came to a place of forgiveness and acceptance that the woman I loved was never coming back. I developed a good relationship with the person she was, and we always loved each other. But I always carried the sadness of missing the woman I’d lost.
Then one day I died. And then my mother came back to life.
Here is the story of what happened in her words…
With wonder and curiosity and an unlearned reverence the young girl holds the small white Bible given to her at school by the Gideons...
My first exposure to the Christian story was at age twelve when my mother started bringing me and my four younger siblings to a Methodist church. I experienced baptism and confirmation and Bible teaching. I sang in the youth choir and went to summer camp and other youth activities. But age seventeen saw me turn away to youthful folly until I was out of college.
At age 23 I had a conversion experience and began attending an Assembly of God church where my mother was a member. For seventeen years I was dedicated to the life of the church and served in many leadership roles with children and women. My most significant leadership role was in assisting the pastor with the startup of a Christian church school and serving as a teacher and assistant administrator for 6 years. During the seventeen years I attended this church I was married and had two daughters.
But all was not well in this church. I had no adult experience within other churches so I did not see what was happening as we slid deeper into legalism in which from the pulpit I heard how to dress and wear my hair, what not to eat, and other outward behaviors to fulfill which were of the Law and not the Gospel. More emphasis was placed on spiritual “experiences” than on the teaching of theology. People measured each other’s spiritual maturity and judged. Families, including ours, began to struggle with deep issues, but being honest about struggles in this environment felt emotionally dangerous.
So our family made the decision to leave this church. Soon after, as we were beginning our search for another church home, our younger daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Many from our previous church judged this to be the result of sin and without a new church home, we were adrift and mostly unsupported other than by family. At the end of our daughter’s three year long but successful battle against the cancer, our marriage collapsed and we divorced.
For 21 long years since leaving that church, I was in the desert. I went back to school twice and had first a career for about 5 years as a hospice nurse and then for the past 14 years in the software industry in technical and project/program management roles. After many stumblings and bad choices, finally, in terms of the world might deem success, I had it – a great paying job, a happy new marriage, healthy relationships with both daughters and all the rest of my family, great health, travel, you name it.
But all those years I was “in my own room” with the door shut to God. I knew He was out there. I never denied him or hated him. I just did not want to talk or be part of His church. I would often wonder how we got from what Jesus taught and the early church believed to what I had experienced in church. Periodically I would try to understand the truth. I would read books on theology. But I was terrified of getting involved with a church again.
Two years ago the patient God of steadfast love began to knock on the door of the room where I had shut myself away from Him. I understand now that He was saying, “It’s time to come out.”
On May 14, 2012, my older daughter’s husband came home to find her on the floor with no pulse or breath. She had experienced a sudden cardiac arrest event (SCA). CPR by him and the first responders followed with defibrillation by the paramedics got her heart going again, but the ER doctor was not optimistic about her survival. But she did survive and, despite over an estimated 6 minutes without oxygen to her brain, Katie suffered no brain damage. It was an absolutely astonishing recovery in which God clearly demonstrated His love and power as He gave her life back, for which she glorifies Him every day with her being. And I was watching from a small opening at the door of my room.
The next year my younger daughter experienced a painful loss. Her husband was in military training and unable to support her as she needed. She fell into a depression and was on the verge of making dire choices that would destroy her life. In September I flew her to Boston to stay with me for a few days and sort things out. I peeked out the door of my room again, and I spoke. I asked Him to give me the words to help her. And I said that if He could rescue her and save her it would mean that I would have to do something about Him and me. He made another great demonstration of His love and power as He used me to help Emily to turn her life around and find joy and meaning again.
For three months I dallied. And finally at Christmas time last year I determined to dig into my search. I began reading and seeking. And Truth burst into my heart in a way I had never known. My focus was on the truth of the gospel of God and all His promises, no longer on what I did or how I felt or whether I was experiencing enough or being good enough. I became convinced that all my past failings were atoned for by Christ on the Cross and that God just wanted to love me as His child. I flung open the door of my room and came out into His Light to receive His Love as a child.
I am deeply grateful to the working of the Holy Spirit in leading me to this place so quickly and powerfully. Within a few weeks of the start of my search I was ready to place myself within a church body again. I found a church where I instantly felt I belonged and began attending faithfully and reaching out to volunteer. And I have continued my studying of the Bible.
My experience has been that of recognition that there are no works I can do to add to the work already done by Jesus Christ to save me. And as I have been gazing at His work and plan and promises and the beautiful face of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit my love for God has already grown beyond what it ever was and I am being changed in my deepest being by Him. I am truly sad for the lost years in the desert, but excited about what ministry to others is still possible for me even now as I place myself at His command.
The woman, no longer young, but filled with wonder and curiosity and understanding reverence, holds in her hands her Bible.
While I lay in a coma, God was using the circumstances to knock on the door of my mother’s heart. I didn’t know about it until much later. When my life was granted back to me, I spent many months feeling like God could have stopped the whole thing from ever happening. Why did he allow my husband and kids to go through so much trauma? Why did he let me get stuck with this stupid metal box in my chest and an ugly scar that claws its way out of every shirt I wear? Was He showing off His power at my expense? I didn’t understand. When my mother told me her story, I sat down and cried. In all my 21 years of praying for my mother, I never imagined God would use me as one of the threads woven into the tapestry of her redemption. He knew I had an undiagnosed heart condition, and He let me die. He never abandoned or let go of us or lost control for a second, but He allowed it. I looked down at the scar that I so often curse and hate. That ugly scar was wet with tears as I whispered, “Thank you.”
My mother is alive again. Oh, she was always living and breathing, but now she is ALIVE in a way that only God can bring a person to life. My mother is back. It’s like those 21 years in the desert were swept away in one holy stroke of God’s loving hand. She is the mother I knew and loved and grieved for, but now she’s even more amazing; because there was always a piece missing that she now has! We spoke about it one day, and I’ll never forget her saying, “His Grace is so beautiful and simple and amazing. All those years in the church, and I MISSED it. I can’t believe I missed it all those years.”
You might think the act of bringing my physical heart back to life was the big miracle. It wasn’t. The big miracle was bringing her spiritual heart back to life. If you meet my mother, there is one thing you will see, and that is the love of God shining out of her. It’s all over her face. It’s in everything she does. It overflows out of her heart. She is one of the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen….
Look at your scars. Physical, emotional, psychological… it doesn’t matter. Look at the ugly claws of your scars imprinted across your life… The wounds you feel you will never understand and wonder why He allowed them. God will use every last one of those scars for GOOD if you will let Him. And one day, either in this life or in eternity, you will understand what He was doing behind the scenes, and you will look down at those scars and say, “Thank you….”
“We’ve been told that the heart is just too far gone to save but GRACE tells us another story. Where glory sends hopelessness away oh grace tells us another story.” -Mercy Me