There have been a few times in my life when the overwhelming presence and peace of God filled my heart. On April 8th of this year I experienced this, and as only the Lord can do, the experience was uniquely tailored to my circumstances.
First of all, you need to know what April 8th means to me. It was on this day, seven years ago, that we learned of the death our 32 year old son, Cullen, who died as a result of an accidental methadone/heroin overdose. At best, it is a difficult day….always. And it is significant I think, this is the seventh anniversary of his death. In Scripture, the number seven is viewed as the number of completeness, of perfection.
I know something about difficult days. June 5th is another. It was on that day, almost 38 years ago, that we said goodbye to our full term, infant son, Russell, who died of a diaphragmatic hernia. Russell was born on a Saturday, his graveside service took place on the following Tuesday afternoon. Our pastor at that time read from 2 Samuel 12, the account where Nathan confronts David with his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, telling him that the child born to him will die.
Everyone, yes, even our sweet, “innocent” babies, are born with “original” sin. It is the predicament of mankind and is as old as the events which took place in the garden of Eden. When Russell died, I knew he immediately went to be with Jesus; I had no anxiety about where he would spend eternity primarily because of the Scripture we find in 2 Samuel 12: 22-23 which reads, “He (David) said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept for I said, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me. ‘ ” (Italics, bold mine).
Then, at the time of Cullen’s death, we knew he had struggled for many years with heroin addiction, but in several months prior, he had made significant progress toward sobriety. He weaned himself from methadone, taken to curb the craving for heroin, assumed responsibilities he had previously neglected, worked on a regular basis, and had rented his own home. It seemed that his life was finally coming together; he was a changed person. Even the first responders who attended him asked us if he had heart problems or other medical issues of which we were aware.
Weeks after his death, we received the toxicology report indicating the cause of death as accidental overdose. We were stunned; naive maybe, but because we recently had seen a glimpse of our son as we knew him prior to his foray into addiction, it was difficult to come to terms with the reality of what happened.
Cullen made a profession of faith as a young child of eight years of age. He was raised in the Christian faith and seemed, as best as we could discern, to know Jesus in a personal way. There is a big difference in knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus, and we felt he had a clear understanding of the commitment he was making in giving His life to Christ.
During his early years, Cullen was compassionate, kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, patient, respectful, honest, and loving; we saw fruits of the Spirit exhibited in his life. When addiction took over his life, he was angry, dishonest, impatient, untrustworthy, and seemingly had little regard for whatever chaos ensued as a result of his actions. It was a dark, dark time in our relationship with our son.
Before his death, he had come to us and asked for our forgiveness, and sought to make amends to us and others whom he had wronged. He indicated that above all, he wanted to regain our trust, and that he would never again almost destroy our family by his actions. We saw a real compassion and concern for his older brother, David, who also struggled with addiction.
So, when Cullen died, before we learned of the toxicology report, I had no anxiety about where he would spend eternity, Not that his “cleaning up his life” would allow him to enter heaven, but that the marked change in him, his exhibiting the fruit of a changed life, confirmed for me the fact that his profession of faith at the age of eight was genuine.
Enter Satan, the father of lies. When I saw the results of the toxicology report, doubt settled deep in my soul. Satan used the stigma and shame associated with addiction against me. The “what ifs” began to plague my thoughts. What if Cullen’s profession of faith was disingenuous? What if he was not in Heaven with his brother, Russell? What if I never saw him again?
For me it is significant, that Resurrection Day (Easter) fell this year on the day of Cullen’s Celebration of Life service seven years ago. As we know, Jesus died on Good Friday, was buried that day, and his body remained in the tomb. The time between His burial and His appearance to the women and His disciples is often called Holy Saturday. On the third day, (Sunday) we know that Jesus was raised from the dead. The sorrow of Good Friday is swallowed up in the joy of the Resurrection. For the bereaved parent, that span of time between their child’s burial and when they are reunited, may be a much longer period, not three days. For most of us, the sorrow of loss is not so rapidly mitigated by the physical reality of the resurrection; it lasts a lifetime, and the possibility of not being reunited with your child is paralyzing. After seeing Cullen’s toxicology report, that is where I found myself. Everytime I was encouraged, Satan would cast more doubt in my mind.
I have been reading through the Bible with our church this year, a first for me, or at least a first in reading it systematically. The plan our pastor originally suggested we use, allowed the entire Bible to be read in 342 days as opposed to 365 days. However, he discovered the readings did not coincide with those in Tabletalk, and some folks went to the plan outlined in Tabletalk, lasting the whole year. I forged ahead on the shorter time frame, and on the 100th day of my readings, April 8th, the first assigned Scripture was the reading of 2 Samuel 12.
What an encouragement those words were to me! Before the foundation of the world, God planned this. It was not a coinicidence, it did not happen by chance. He knows my heart, my fears, my doubts, my strengths, and my weaknesses….and in that verse, He ministered to the depths of my soul. I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (Italics, bold mine).