The day before your life changes forever is like any other day. It feels like the part of the Wizard of Oz before Dorothy gets to Munchkinland; black and white, and not as memorable as the rest of the movie.
The days that follow the day that everything changed are usually ones that challenge every ideal you have ever held to be true. Ones that force you to recognize that you've been home all along.
And so it is with the story of my near-death experience and everything that has come after that day that changed everything.
A story of hope. And, of course, as all great stories go--
one about the power of Love.
In March 2008, I was recovering from extensive sleep apnea surgery. It was an exceptionally difficult time not only because of the extreme physical pain of recovery, but because my mother was dying of breast cancer 3000 miles away. My plans were to join her in Atlanta as soon as I was cleared to travel. I hadn't left her side since her diagnosis in 2003 but she had gone to stay with my brother where she could get treatment at Emory. The cancer had returned and had metatasized everywhere. Things started to go downhill quickly but I held hope that she could hang on until I got there. That's the thing about time, though, whose very nature is to give you sense that it can't possibly end. It's when it does run out that time always feels like its standing still.
On March 15, I had a vivid dream that my mom and I were having coffee. She looked like she did when I was a boy, she was young and vibrant. She told me that she was gone now and that she loved me. I woke up breathless from my dream with my jaw wired shut. As I lay with titanium plates and screws holding my jaws forward to keep my airway open so I could breathe, and in unbearable physical pain, the phone rang. It was my dad on the other end but I knew before he spoke the words. My mom was gone.
I had suffered from a lack of faith already, but now- all hope was lost in my eyes. There was no God. There was no purpose to this life. Lost in sadness and pain, I simply existed and tried to get through the day. Months passed. Nothing felt alive inside me anymore.
By September I was still suffering as a result of my surgery and recovery was proving to be an arduous process. A rare side effect of one of the medications I was on induced a heart arrhythmia and as a result I had a near-death experience. I was aware of my consciousness but no longer attached to my body. While looking down from the corner of the room I began to pray for the first time in a very long time. Floating above my body I could see my son’s toys strewn on the floor in the corner.
It was at that moment that I prayed to God,
Please don't let me die.
An inconceivable bright light instantly filled me with the feeling of pure love. Complete peace. I heard the voice of God. I felt the presence of my loved ones that had gone before me and all of my fear disappeared.
I had a life review. I saw the ways in which I hurt people and I felt the pain that I had caused them. I saw the ways in which I had loved and how that love affected those around me. I saw the ripples of my life when I threw in my stone into the water and I could now see all the way through to the bottom.
But that clarity didn't translate so easily when I came back out of that tunnel and back into the reality of my life in a body and soul that had previously been broken. I had gone from atheism to instant faith. I was 0 to 60 in 3 seconds. Suddenly God existed and I had a knowing that we were unconditionally loved. My wife had instant confusion and distress. We were not religious people and man, this was going to complicate things. Not to mention I started “knowing” things.
I started getting messages from people who were no longer living. Not only that, but the accuracy of the information I started to receive was so spot on that my wife the skeptic began to sob at the dinner table the night her grandmother sat beside me and told me things about her that only the two of them knew. I was now like a radio that had tuned into a frequency that previously only sounded like static.
Now with an insatiable curiosity, I began meditating and praying, seeking answers. I came to discover we all have spiritual gifts if we recognize and cultivate them. My near-death experience had precipitated this gift. I began doing medium work as a result of this gift. I witnessed people gaining such peace from the knowing that death is merely a transition and not an end. When I began to share my story, I saw how hope could mend the hearts of the broken. I knew that mending those hearts was exactly why I had come back.
I saw people that had lost faith gain the ability to find it once again, and reconnect to the light that they had lost. I witnessed people that had been imprisoned by fear overcome and start truly living their lives. The message I had to give wasn't about doctrine or dogma, it was about people knowing that the love of God is already alive inside of them.
The times in which we are living are a direct reflection of the spiritual state of humanity as a whole. People are disconnected from the light, and subsequently from each other. My near-death experience and all that has followed have given me a new awareness - an awareness I strive to share with others that they may call into question why they believe what they believe about faith. We are taught to follow doctrine rather than to question the nature of our faith and how we live our lives. As Socrates entreated (and Timothy Leary later reiterated to a generation of dissolusioned youth), we need to Question Authority. No one outside of ourselves can define our relationship to the Divine, it is a personal journey for each of us. Ask questions. Seek knowledge. Find truth.
There is another realm with which we are so out of tune, we are convinced there is nothing there. We can’t see gravity, but we have a deep knowing that if we jump off a bridge, we are going to fall. Somehow it is harder for us to buy into when we apply this principle to God, or the existence of something outside the realm of our apparent everyday lives. My experience has shown me that God’s love and light are alive inside of every one of us. This knowing now guides my actions every single day. My experience reminds me that Love is still guiding us even when we have no understanding of where we are going. It reminds me that redemption isn't just for some.
It's for us all.
Pastor Peter Delan