by Carina Deshotels
I recently finished reading the book, “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. It’s the story of a little boy’s account of going to heaven and how his visit completely changed his family’s view on heaven.
My mom died when I was four-years-old, so reading the book had special meaning for me. There was a part of the book that I felt came straight from an experience I had a couple of years ago – an experience that confirmed for me the power of God’s presence in my life, and that there is so much more to this life than what we can see.
I’ve always loved God, but I haven’t always been in love with Jesus like I am today. My mom laid a strong foundation for my sisters and I, and we never doubted God’s existence. I knew the typical Sunday school stories. I knew one day I wanted a good future for myself, one that included a husband who treated me right, children, to go to church, and live happily ever after. Everything worked out pretty well, except when I had my son, I started to struggle like crazy! I dealt with medical problems, exhaustion and feeling down on my new post partum appearance. My husband and I began fighting and not understanding each other. We constantly compared roles with who had it harder. Sometimes I would wonder what the future held for us. How could life have gotten so hard? We didn’t really know what we were doing as new parents, but a major factor was my depression. I was also new to the area and was home alone with my baby all of the time.
When my son turned one, we finally had had enough and realized I needed help. I decided to join a small group at Grace Family Church. The ladies there were all different. Some older, some my age, some single, some married, some with older kids. One of the ladies there, Vivian, and I really hit it off. She was different than other “big Christians” I had met in the past.
At the time, I associated being a major Christian with looking dull and boring, and acting that way too. This was part of the reason why I was never able to just dive straight into being all about God. I still wanted to “have fun.” I still had things in my life I didn’t want to give up. But Vivian was truly inspiring and showed me that you don’t have to be someone you don’t want to be to have God at the center of your life. God made me, and when you have Him at the center of your life, He just makes you better, the “you” you’ve always wanted to be. It’s a win/win, but I never realized that before.
So, after a year in the small group, I grew closer with God, grew closer in my friendships, and my marriage was better than ever! About that same time, Grace’s annual ladies retreat was coming up and I decided to go with a few members of my small group.
On the second night of the retreat, the choir gathered for worship. I found myself worshiping in a way I had never done before. I felt as though I was truly worshiping our God with every single word of the song! After the worship, the speaker invited women who felt led, to come to the front and kneel at the stage while the song, “I Can Only Imagine” played. Immediately, I felt like I should go to the front and kneel. This was strange for me because I had never kneeled in church. But at that moment, I didn’t care anymore. I was going to go up front if I felt He wanted me to.
I was the first to go up there. Vivian saw me and came up behind me. She leaned over and said, “Carina, can I pray for you?”
As Vivian began praying, I heard God say, “She is with you.” Suddenly, I felt the air come around me from behind and hug me tightly. I instantly knew the “she” was my mother, and that hug was her big wings wrapping around my body. I burst into a serious cry! Before I could get out my entire thought of, “DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?”, God knew I would not be sure, so He confirmed it again to show me I was not crazy. He said again, “She is with you!”, and her big angel wings came and wrapped around me once more. The air squeezed my body and I felt my angel mother’s touch after 20 years of her leaving this earth, and not having a single memory of her on my own.
I didn’t really know why God gave me that experience. But a few months later, I found out. One day I was looking through my mom’s old trunk filled with memorabilia. Inside was a cassette tape of her testimony she recorded just before she died in 1989. She recorded it with hopes of it bringing others to Christ. I had listened to it before when I was much younger, but only with the hope of hearing her say my name.
On the tape, my mom shared how even though she’d been going to church, she just didn’t feel changed. She hadn’t really given her whole life to Christ. So one night she cried out to God. She wanted to feel the difference if she was to be a child of God – meaning her thoughts and actions would be proof of her love for God. The next morning, she awoke and never felt the same. She described it with a feeling of wanting to love. Her life had changed. She had truly surrendered her life to Him.
That night at the retreat was the same experience for me. I surrendered my own life to Jesus that night while in worship. I knew during that song something had happened that was different. I didn’t realize it then, but my life had been set on fire. My little weekend away wasn’t some temporary revival.
Now two years later, God is using me to lead MOPS at Grace Family Church. MOPS is a ministry for mothers of children ages 0-5. I now get to bless and encourage other mothers in ways that I needed when I was a new mom.
In the book “Heaven is for Real,” the little boy who visits Heaven testifies that everyone in Heaven has wings. And in the Bible, God speaks of angels and their wings. I love that I am now a witness that God’s angels aren’t puny. My mama had big wings and covered me well!
I used to wonder how I’d ever love God enough to want to see him more than my mom in Heaven. But that night at the retreat changed the way I see life and the way I see God, Heaven and eternity. It was a supernatural moment and I’d never be the same again! It’s why I have complete peace in my life about my mom dying. It’s why I have peace about when I die and why I have peace when others die whom I know are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. It’s when I became absolutely sure with every cell in my body that my soul would never cease and would forever be with my loved ones and God!
My life is living proof of the change God made in me. And I’m forever grateful for that experience.