Back to LIFE!──A Mother and Daughter's Story

In May 2012, I collapsed on the floor of my home and died suddenly. Even though only 2% of people who have this type of heart attack can be resuscitated, miraculously, I lived! I had no brain damage and the doctors declared I had survived sudden death.

The story of the miracle of my recovery is widespread among the thousands of people who were praying for me during this time. But another story was unfolding at the same time—a greater miracle, a story of redemption, of unrelenting love, and amazing grace.

The Mother Who Was

While I was in a coma in the hospital, the person sitting beside my bed was my mother. She had flown from Boston as soon as she got word from my husband that I was in the hospital in serious condition.

Even now, as I write the words “my mother,” I am filled with emotion.

As a child, my mother was my hero. She was the person who taught me about God and laid the foundation that I built my life upon. When God tugged at my little four-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 in life—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 my mother closely, because I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.

When I was 14, our family was rocked when my three-year-old sister was diagnosed with leukemia. After a few years, my sister’s cancer was in remission—but my mother was changed. The mother I knew was replaced by a woman I did not know. I grieved the loss and prayed hard for her for many years—21 years to be exact! 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—to love her no matter what. As a struggling teenager, I didn’t want to forgive her for not being the mother I so desperately loved and needed. The rift between us was always in my heart, and I carried it into adulthood.

Eventually, I 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 my mother had become, and we always loved each other, though I carried the sadness of losing the person she had once been.

My Mother’s Story…In Her Own Words

As a young child, I held the small white Bible given me at school by the Gideons, and felt wonder and curiosity and an unlearned reverence. My earliest exposure to the Christian story was at age twelve when my mother started taking me and my four younger siblings to church. In this church, I was baptized and confirmed. I studied the Bible, sang in the youth choir, and went to summer camps and youth activities. During my college years, though I experienced some youthful folly, by the time I was 23, I felt I was fully converted to Christ.

For seventeen years, I dedicated my life to the church I attended. I served in leadership roles with children and women and assisted in the startup of a Christian school, where I taught and worked as assistant administrator. During these years I was married and had two beautiful daughters—but I was not able to see that all was not well in this church.

As the church slid deeper into legalism, from the pulpit we heard messages about outward behaviors that were more about “law” than the gospel of grace. Emphasis was placed on having spiritual “experiences” rather than on following Christ. Members measured each other’s spiritual maturity—and judged. As a result, families—including ours— began to struggle with deep issues, but the environment of the church made being honest about our struggles emotionally dangerous.

Our family made the decision to leave this church, and soon after, 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 our family. At the end of our daughter’s three-year—but successful—battle against the cancer, our marriage collapsed and my husband and I divorced.

Over the following 21 years, I went back to school twice and had first a career as a hospice nurse and then in management roles in the software industry. In terms of what the world deems success—I had made it! I had a great-paying job, a happy new marriage, healthy relationships with my daughters and all my family, great health, travel! You name it!

But during those long years, I was in the desert, “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 be part of His church. I would often wonder how we got from what Jesus taught and what the early church believed to what I had experienced in church. I wanted to understand the truth, even read books on theology, but was terrified of getting involved with a church again.

Then 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. 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 which got her heart going again. Despite an estimated six minutes without oxygen to her brain, Katie survived—and suffered no brain damage. God clearly demonstrated His love and power as He gave her life back. And I was watching from a small opening at the door of my room.

The next year my younger daughter experienced a painful loss. 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 asked God to give me the words to help her. 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 turn her life around and find joy and meaning again.

At Christmas time last year, I determined to dig into my search. I began reading and seeking. 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 Holy Spirit for leading me 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. I got involved in Bible study and volunteer work at the church.

There are no works that I can do to add to the work already done by Jesus Christ. He has saved me. And as I gaze at His work and plans and promises—and the beautiful face of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—my love for God has grown, and I am changed in my deepest being by Him. I am truly sad for the lost years in the desert, but I am excited about what lies ahead as I place myself at God’s command.

I’m a woman—no longer young—but I’m filled with wonder, and curiosity, and understanding reverence of God’s truth found in the Bible I hold in my hands.

The Thread of Grace

In all my 21 years of praying for my mother, I never imagined that God would use the circumstance of the possibility of my death as one of the threads woven into the tapestry of her redemption. When God brought my physical heart back to life, it was a big miracle. But the biggest miracle was bringing my mother’s spiritual heart back to life. Today the love of God shines through her! It is all over her face and in everything she does. It flows out of her heart—and she is beautiful!

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 to a person. Now she understands that piece that was missing before—God’s grace. We spoke about it one day, and I’ll never forget her saying, “God’s grace is so beautiful and simple and amazing. Yet I missed it all those years when I walked away from God because of the church— and tried to do life on my own.”The struggles that happen to us in this life—those things that we just don’t understand—will make sense to us later. And one day—either in this life or in eternity—we will understand the amazing things God was and is doing behind the scenes, as He writes His story of grace and redemption in our lives.

(Katie John lives in Winter Garden, Florida, with her husband and two daughters. She is the Children’s Ministry Director at Grace Winter Garden. Because of her genetic heart condition, she wears a pacemaker/defibrillator to prevent another sudden death. Katie’s mother, Peggy Drew, is enrolled in a Bible seminary, studying to become a hospice minister to terminally ill patients.)

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Reprint please credit to Challenger, 20150103 2015. CCMUSA.