It was the week of my 23rd birthday, and I was haggard with exhaustion after months of little sleep and relentless flashbacks. Just four months before, I had been violently awakened in the middle of the night when six men invaded my home and held my roommates and me at gunpoint. I had begged these masked men for my life, and I had laid terrorized on my bedroom floor with a shotgun barrel pressed against my head. These moments felt burned into my memory.
On that night I had prayed that God would give me a supernatural experience of his presence, but what I had felt was nothing but terror.
At the time I was working in full-time college ministry, and I recounted the story of the home invasion in countless conversations. Vulnerably, I shared with my mentors the feeling of aloneness that I felt that night and how it led me to question if God was even real. I told them that all I wanted was to feel relief from the terror, something similar to Stephen’s vision while he was being stoned, but all I had felt was an absence of God’s presence. My mentors listened, and then they replied that God had been with me that night because I had lived.
Their response, though well meaning, had not satisfied the wrestling of my soul.
The months that followed the home invasion left me full of doubt and pain. I was simply just going through the motions, and it felt like a different kind of death than the one I had expected that night. I decided to take some time off during the week of my birthday to visit family.
One afternoon I rested on a bed in my grandparents’ home with a Bible open before me. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and whispered, “If you are real, please, please, just show me. None of this theology can help me now.” Tears began to fall and billowed into sobs, and I turned my head into my pillow and cried myself to sleep.
I am not sure how much time passed before a knock on the bedroom door woke me. My heart raced, as it had every time I woke since the home invasion. As I tried to get my bearings, I heard my grandmother say, “Heather, Ms. Mary is here to see you.” Confused, I stumbled to the door and opened it.
Standing on the other side was my grandmother’s neighbor, Ms. Mary. She was about 85 years old with pitch black, bottle-dyed hair. I did not know her very well, but I did know she loved Jesus because of stories that my grandmother had shared with me. Ms. Mary was slightly bent over, but her eyes locked with mine. She cleared her throat and began to speak with an authority that simultaneously startled me and put me at ease.
She said, “Heather, I was in my kitchen about an hour ago, and the Lord spoke to me. He told me that you were over here and that I was to come and tell you that he loves you. He has covered you with his blood, and you can claim the blood of Jesus over you.” She recited Psalm 91 and told me to memorize it and cling to it. Then, she turned around and left.
I stood there bewildered by her words. I had never had someone speak to me like that before. Usually, operating as a Presbyterian, I would have discredited someone who started a sentence with “The Lord told me,” but on that day, I needed to hear it.
I would love to say that her words instantly healed me, but they did not. I still suffered with wrestling, doubt, and fear for a couple more years, but there was something about her words that gave me the permission to struggle. I believe that engaging the struggle is what continued to bring about my healing and led to a more sincere faith than I imagined was possible.
Heather Medley is a woman who is learning to be present and kind to herself and to her husband. She is drawn to engage her world with hope of restoration and redemption and gets to do this professionally as a therapist. She loves deep conversations over hot beverages, neuroscience research papers, and bargain shopping. Heather, her anchoring husband, and two delightful kiddos reside in the Northwest Georgia Mountains.