I was 5 years old, and I didn’t understand that my mother was dying. I did know that something scary was hiding in our house, and I was afraid of things I hadn’t minded before, like the swans on the bathroom curtains and the gaping black hole of the closet doorway at night. I was so frightened that my mother took the swans away at bath time and closed the closet curtain at bedtime.
On this night, I work up thirsty. I started to call for my mother and froze. The closet curtain was open again, the black hole exposed. They had gotten into my room and would grab me if I called for my mother or tried to run to her. My mouth went dry from thirst and terror, and I pulled my blanket over my head to hide. I lay still, heart thudding.
And then the darkness was gone. Light was everywhere. I peeked out and saw the Light coming from a beautiful man sitting beside my bed. The Light around him felt like love, comforting and safe. He said, “Don’t be afraid, I’ll stay with you,” and I fell asleep.
The next night as my mother helped me dress for bed, I said, “I hope that nice man comes back tonight.” I remember her hands gripping my shoulders as she asked questions. I don’t remember my answers, but suddenly her hands relaxed and she was crying and smiling and hugging me. Later, as I lay in bed listening to her talk on the phone, I heard her say, “Sally saw Jesus!” And my heart said YES.
The memory of this experience has been a Light in my darkness ever since. It has shaped my life and my understanding of God. Without it, I doubt I’d be at West Hills or any other church.
And now, as I write, I realize that this story is not just about me being comforted by Jesus. It’s also about a dying mother who is comforted when she discovers a priceless story that could have been lost. As her small daughter answers her questions, the mother recognizes the Light, and her sadness turns to joy. She hears a promise in Jesus’ words that lifts a great burden from her heart: “I will stay with her.” The mother renames the story and gives it back to her daughter, salted with joyful tears that affirm its meaning. After the mother dies, the story that lights her daughter’s path is wrapped in precious memories of the mother.
God Stories are like seeds that sprout up and yield fruit after lying dormant for years. And they’re like the talents in Jesus’ parable. When they’re hidden within, their value is frozen. When they’re told, their value multiplies as others are blessed and new facets are illuminated. God Stories can grow and return to the storyteller so filled with Light that they are pillars of fire to light the way.
--- Sally Gillette