Alaina, one of my readers and a frequent commenter on this blog, wrote the incredible story of how she found God’s grace on a dark snowy night in Maine when she had lost all hope and was preparing to die.
My epiphany wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as Alaina’s–I could see her story as a novel or movie. I’m posting it not because of its drama though (God has a different plan for each of us–he appears in some lives more quietly) but because of how inspirational it is. My jaw was glued to the floor after reading it. I couldn’t help but think of the “Footprints” prayer.
Here is Alaina’s blog (about having PTSD). Please follow her!
On the night of January 14, 1990, I walked exactly 17 miles in a snowstorm down an isolated unplowed road not far from the coast of Maine, where I lived at that time. I know I walked exactly 17 miles because the next day, I followed my footprints in the snow in a car and that’s what the car’s odometer showed.
I had run out of the house to get away from my abusive husband, in terror for both my life and my sanity. I was emotionally very fragile, as a lot of things in my little world were unraveling at that time.
I half-ran, half-walked out of town until I got to the unplowed coastal road, where there was no traffic, no houses, no buildings of any kind, not even any electrical poles for many miles, just trees and more trees and lots of frozen snow and ice everywhere. When I got far enough outside of town to feel sure that no one could hear me, that’s when I began RAGING at God at the top of my lungs. About two and a half years had passed since I had left my job at Pat Robertson’s TV ministry, with my faith utterly destroyed, during that time when Robertson was running for President and the scandals of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart and other big TV ministers were making headlines. I had stopped believing in God then for all kinds of reasons and – if God DID exist – then I was extremely furious at Him!
I walked for hours through the dark night, with no streetlights or any other lights in sight, just a hazy sliver of moonlight shining through the snow clouds reflecting eerily off the white wilderness that surrounded me. As I walked and raged through the deepening snow, my face, feet, hands, and ears grew numb and my knees began to ache and throb so bad, I felt like I couldn’t take another step. And yet I kept going, having made up my mind to walk until I keeled over and died of exhaustion and hypothermia. That was my crazy plan, to die out there in the frozen wilderness at the ripe old age of 36. But FIRST, before I died, I wanted to tell God, if He really existed, exactly why I was so damn PISSED OFF at him!
So I yelled about all of the evil and horror and pain and disasters in the world. I yelled about children and tiny babies who suffer and die of cancer and other horrible diseases, I yelled about evil wars, I yelled about hurricanes and earthquakes and wild fires and tornadoes that kill and destroy, I yelled about rape and hate and trauma and abuse and mental illness and poverty and hunger and broken hearts and broken families. I yelled about every single thing I could think of to yell about that was wrong in the world, and I yelled about every single thing I could think of that had ever gone wrong in my life. I yelled and I yelled and I yelled at the God I did not believe in, with snow blowing in my frozen face and crunching under my aching feet and knees. I yelled and I yelled and I yelled until I finally yelled myself out. I had yelled about everything I could think of to yell about, there was nothing left inside me, not one damn thing.
At that point, feeling utterly empty and depleted, I kept walking, because there wasn’t anything else to do. And that was when my epiphany happened. It was as if a veil had been drawn back and I was given the temporary ability to see, feel, and sense what was already all around and within me, something too big and overwhelming to discern in ordinary time, with ordinary human senses. I did not see any visions, I did not hear any voices. But I felt: GOD. A huge presence, a great reality, as real and palpable to me as anything I have ever seen or felt or sensed in my entire life, before or since. God was simply THERE, in everything and through everything, part of all of reality, even, somehow, a part of me. And God’s huge, overwhelming presence was overwhelmingly perfect: perfect love, perfect goodness, perfect peace, perfect holiness.
I was not given any answers to any of my questions, not a single one. There were no rebukes or rebuttals for anything I had yelled at Him through all those hours and miles. God just simply WAS, and God was perfectly GOOD, and God absolutely LOVED ME, unconditionally and completely, through and through, in spite of – and maybe because of? – everything that was “wrong” with me.
Not only that, but I got the very strong impression that God was letting me know that He understood, 100%, everything there was to understand about me. He “got” me. He “got” why I was the way I was, He understood why I did the things I did. God knew even those things about me that I did not know about myself, things that I have either forgotten or never known. God knew and understood and He loved me perfectly, faults and all!
Then I heard the sound of an approaching diesel engine. I did not want anyone to see me, because I knew I probably looked like hell – I had been sobbing during a lot of my yelling at God, and I have never been a pretty crier, my face gets all red and puffy and my nose runs. I have literally scared myself just by looking in a mirror after I cry. So, before the headlights of the approaching truck came around the corner, I slipped and slid off the road and hid behind a thick stand of trees.
The truck pulled up right beside me and stopped. Then I heard a male voice call my name.
It was an old Canadian lobster man by the name of Delwyn, a man I had just met and barely knew. He said he had wondered why I wasn’t at the AA meeting in town that night (although I had only recently started going there and wasn’t sure if I would continue). He said that all during the meeting he had a strong, nagging feeling that he needed to go look for me, that I was in trouble. When the meeting ended, as he was driving home, he noticed a lone set of footprints beside the road, heading out of town. So he had followed my footprints. Who would have guessed that my guardian angel would be an old weather-beaten lobster man?
He drove me to my home, and I have never had a drink of alcohol since that night.
However, I continued to be an agnostic-almost-atheist for the next 13 years. I did not come back to being a Christian until 2003!
Alaina wanted me to put in a disclaimer about the possibility what happened to her could have been due to severe PTSD. I’ll just copy her next post.
I don’t know why my epiphany was so dramatic, maybe God took pity on me because of all the unusual amount of trauma I had lived through, who knows? And it’s crazy that I still did not call myself a Christian for the next 13 years, and even today I STILL have some doubts! Because honestly, nothing in my almost 62 years of living on this earth has ever seemed as real to me as this experience, and my second near-death experience that happened a little over 3 years later.
The problem is that I kept wondering if it was just me being crazy and imagining these extremely vivid occurrences, because… well, mental illness does run in my family, plus I had that 2-year post-traumatic breakdown when I was 14 – 16 years old – although, even during that time, I never once lost touch with consensual reality.
Still, it’s a terrible thing to go through so much trauma and to have such terrible PTSD as a result, that you get to a point where God could appear to you in a burning bush and you will be like, “Yeah, right, like I’m going to believe THIS is real. 🙂
But yes, to answer your question, feel free to use this as a post if you want, I am honored. Also, feel free to attach a disclaimer if you want to, about my mental health… However if you do that, you may also want to include the fact that after my last divorce was final in February 2003, I took my settlement money and checked myself into a mental health clinic, where I had to pay my way with cash, as I had lost my health insurance in the divorce. (I could have paid cash for a nice little house with that money, and I even had the house picked out – but I realized that having a nice house to live in, with me being so miserable that I wanted to die, was not going to do me any good, I needed some real HELP.)
Paul Meier, MD, is the founder of the psychiatric clinic that I went to, in Richardson, Texas. Dr. Meier, who I believe has several doctorates to his name and has been a psychiatrist for about 40 years, plus he has authored or co-authored over 80 books, many of which were best sellers, and he has been on the Oprah Show – Dr. Meier himself ordered a full battery of psychological and physical tests for me, and when he gave me the results of all of my tests, he said that I had severe PTSD and general depression and anxiety, and that I may also have something that he called Cyclothemia (However you spell it? It is a mild form of bipolar disorder, which my doctors since then have decided that I do NOT have, they say I only have the PTSD and depression/anxiety). Dr. Meier told me very definitely that, despite my almost two year incarceration in an insane asylum as a teenager, that I am NOT psychotic, I am NOT crazy, in fact he said that I am amazingly normal, considering my life history.
Dr. Meier is the one who told me that having a PTSD reaction to overwhelming extreme trauma is NORMAL, just as it is normal to bleed if you are stabbed.
So, yes… I realize there is always the possibility that the two most profound and vivid experiences of my entire life were somehow a result of something going briefly haywire in my brain. But I have been certified SANE, and I see a therapist regularly who also says I am sane.