Heaven Encountered in the Midst of Tragedy

Spinal Cord Injury denotes varying degrees of damage to the nerves in the spinal cord. The body’s amazing design incorporates a number of protective safeguards, and often this extremely serious injury isn’t immediately medically life threatening. Even when paralysis prevents most voluntary movements, life-sustaining automatic functions continue. Injuries high in the neck sometimes create breathing issues and cause dependence on a ventilator, and comprehensive treatment addresses a long list of other potentially critical concerns. But SCI is primarily chronic and forces adjustments to just about every aspect of life.

In the weeks after my accident I couldn’t move around independently at all, couldn’t even roll myself over in bed, so to avoid bedsores someone had to turn me every two hours. I pretty much stayed wherever someone left me. And since I still found little motivation to do anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary, I tended to stay in bed a lot. Despite efforts to encourage me, this routine resulted in a complete lack of exercise or any other movement at all.

Restricted movement contributed to constrained, shallow breathing which didn’t efficiently clear my lungs. I couldn’t cough effectively because the injury affected my diaphragm. Nurses and therapists tried hard to encourage deep breathing and coughing exercises, but I didn’t put much effort into this important therapy. Over a few weeks’ time the combination of sedentary existence and inadequate breathing created a dangerous situation: I developed pneumonia.

Pneumonia’s nothing to mess with even if you’re relatively healthy otherwise. For someone who doesn’t move around much, the infection can lead to serious complications and even the risk of death. I wasn’t completely aware of the danger, but I vaguely recall significant concern from the doctors and nurses.

As the infection progressed I became increasingly lethargic. Despite the best efforts of the medical team, I spiraled downward. Later I learned that I lapsed into a kind of semi-coma.

I opened my eyes in total stillness, none of the hospital noises to which I’d become accustomed. I lay on my right side, and I couldn’t see anything. I moved my eyes from side to side, but darkness obscured my surroundings. I felt as though I floated in a totally black, open space, alone in a dark void. I didn’t try to move, didn’t try to speak, just lay there and rested in peaceful silence.

It was so completely still. I wasn’t afraid even though I could see and hear nothing to help me orient myself. Peace, that’s what it was. It felt like a palpable peace had settled around me. I closed my eyes for a moment, or maybe for a long time.

Eyes open again, the same calm, serene blackness. I glanced toward my feet and perceived a vague shadow of an image. Someone stood beside me, a presence almost felt more than seen. I waited in the perfect tranquility, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I discerned a faint outline. A man, standing very near, head bowed. Even in the silence, I could sense the man was praying. I closed my eyes again, for a moment or a lifetime.

He’s still there. No sound, no movement, just standing there immersed in prayer. Muted details, just the silhouette of this figure standing motionless beside me, head bowed, surroundings so calm I can almost hear his thoughts. Peaceful, quiet, and dark, just this shadowy form hunched over me.

I waited, quiet, serene, and contented, no desire to do anything or say anything. Everything seemed restful, somehow just as it was supposed to be. I couldn’t determine who stood next to me, somehow certain there was no need to know. It was just right to be here, to just be in the tranquility and peace surrounding me. I was exactly where I belonged. I knew I was safe, as though Love had come alive, wrapped its arms around me, and held me securely in this place of peacefulness.

It’s Jesus! Jesus is standing beside me. This must be Heaven, this space of such perfect peace and calm. I’ve died, I’m in Heaven, and Jesus is standing beside me, praying over me. No fear, no questions, just tranquility and calm. No emotions—not excitement, not wonder, not sadness. Everything here is just filled with a sense of serenity; it’s all just as it’s supposed to be. So quiet, so safe, no more pain, no more fear. I took a deep breath, smiled and closed my eyes.


Note: this is an excerpt from the book Relentless Grace: God’s invitation to give hope another chance