Jesus said it many times, “I tell you the truth…” And yet, in spite of the myriad witnesses to the many miracles he performed, there was still doubt about Him. No one doubted he could perform feats of magic, they just doubted he was the son of the Creator, the son of God Himself.
Philosopher, Rene Descartes said, “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” Still and all, we human beings do love being tricked and even amazed, but we don’t like to be fooled.
The children and I were visiting my parents in Ohio in September 1981. I looked out onto our street, at the house directly across from ours, the DePadova house. I turned to my mother,
“When did Mr. DePadova die?”
“He’s not dead.”
“Well, yes, he is.”
The knowing was there, in my mind. Ollie DePadova had passed away, he was now spirit and he and I were somehow sharing the same plane of existence. I heard no voice, felt nothing physical. Remarkably I didn’t even feel a twinge of fear – or excitement – at his presence.
To shut me up, Mom decided to call our next-door neighbor Carol (who was also a close friend of the family) and, yes, Ollie had passed away yesterday from an apparent heart attack.
That was it; it was and we went on with our day. We never mentioned it again. I had been privileged to experience someone’s life after death but I forgot about it as quickly as it had come to me. It might seem odd that such a remarkable experience left me unmoved and, worse yet, uncurious, but then it happened again.
In one of his many letters, canonized in the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote to the new ‘Christ followers’ in the town of Thessalonica, near Macedonia. Something was obviously happening there because he wrote,“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…” Were some Thessalonians making a mistake by sharing their unbelievable stories or experiences with others in the new “church” and found themselves disparaged, or worse yet, condemned as heretics?
Paul met Jesus after Jesus’ death and Paul was changed forever that day, on the dusty road to Damascus, Syria. I had experienced Ollie’s spirit after his death and I had not been changed. But remember, I told you it happened again.
We were again visiting the folks and to make Mom happy we went to church. A young girl, perhaps eight or nine years old, was walking in just ahead of me and when I looked down at her I suddenly felt sorry for her.
“I’m sorry about your grandmother passing away.”
The child stared up at me as if she had no idea what I was talking about. I felt a tug on my arm. The child’s grandmother overheard me and pulled me aside. It was her mother, the child’s great-grandmother who had died yesterday, in Florida; they just hadn’t told the child yet.
That day I learned that the dead are not bound by space – or distance. Still, no one asked me how I knew she was dead. I had no doubt as to how I knew because great-grandmother was there with me, in her new spirit condition. And, like Ollie, perhaps she wanted to be near the people she loved. That made sense to me.
I had no idea why Ollie and great-grandmother came to me, but it’s important that you know it never happened again. Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as a though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” It was God who had been sharing some wonderful news with me but since I had squandered that news by not sharing it with anyone else there were no more.
I kept the experiences to myself for a long time and it had only come to me slowly that God used someone else’s departed loved ones to let me know that there was truly a place beyond this life, and that great-grandmother and Ollie were now with Him, just as Jesus had promised them.
You might think that events like these two visitations would be uncontainable, that the notion they inspire – that there is a Creator God who still communicates with us – would be irrepressible. You might think that these stories would naturally burst out of me every time I encountered someone who never saw or heard evidence of God, nor believed the fantastic stories in the Bible. But the truth is that these visits were so fleeting, and no one ever questioned how I knew things that I had no way of knowing, and, of course there was no corroboration of my experiences. No one ever had a chance to join me in the immediate and fantastic wonder of it all. Even to this day, words to describe these visits always seemed inadequate.
It was nearly twenty years later when I searched for their families, finally doing what I felt I was supposed to do all those years before. I started each conversation with,
“I have something wonderful to tell you.”
They made it easy for me. And neither was surprised, not Ollie’s son, nor Mrs. Martin. They both just said,
“Thank you for calling.” Now I was changed, having delivered the news that our Creator was still trying to communicate with us, His creations. It has taken me quite a while since those conversations, those revelations, to begin sharing the good news with others.
I still don’t like to think of myself as prophetic or a messenger because that implies that there’s something special about me, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. But now I am different; it’s been a subtle change and the obligation to be different is more a blessing than a burden.
Every time I read the Old Testament stories of God’s interactions with us, his people, I’m reminded that God used all sorts of people to speak to us, and none of them felt qualified to deliver the message. I’m also reminded that they were full of flaws, just like me, and yet most were willing to do as God asked.
Of course, I’m not the first to try running away from a God-job. Remember Jonah, the one who was swallowed by a big fish? God ordered him to go to the town of Nineveh and tell the people to repent, to change their ways. But Jonah turned God down. He “…ran away from the Lord” and onto a ship heading in the opposite direction. That’s where the story gets scary; that’s when a big storm comes up and the crew tossed Jonah overboard because they knew God was angry. For his disobedience Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish. His prayers were finally answered and the “fish” spit him out onto a beach. Jonah had learned his lesson.
Little by little I will keep sharing the story and the message. No doubt there’s a definite responsibility attached to believing the message, but it’s such a wonderful message, one thousands of years old. And, it never changes: “…for God so loved the world…”