Journey of Light
Stories of Dawn After Darkness
(If any tax is payable it will be calculated and shown at checkout.)
Print & copy permissions
Drawn from real life and brimming with wisdom, this collection of original stories combines the inspiration of Chicken Soup for the Soul, the charm of Life’s Little Instruction Book, and the immediacy of Tuesdays with Morrie.
What is the most precious gift we can leave to the next generation? For Peter Shockey and Stowe D. Shockey, financial security, happy memories of loving times, and an understanding of what constitutes a well-lived life provided a starting point for thinking about their own legacy. But they also wanted to be sure that the wisdom they gained in their lifetime would be shared with their friends, family, and future generations. In Journey of Light they offer the ultimate lessons of their own lives and gems of wisdom gathered from people whose lives influenced them along the way. The stories in Journey of Light encompass the full spectrum of human experience. Built on the struggles of Stowe's own Dickens-style childhood, they recount moments of light and dark, joy and frustration, pain and recovery. What unites them is the realization that the journey through life is lit by the Light of God. Interviews with people who have returned from near-death experiences reveal a common phenomenon that many of them refer to as the ripple effect. Upon seeing their lives “flash before their eyes,” they understood that their actions, like ripples from a pebble cast into a pond, radiated out to touch the lives of those closest to them. Their stories and those of others in Journey of Light illustrate the interconnections between individual lives and show that one person’s decision to share God’s Light can help and heal countless others.
DISCONNECTED FROM GOD
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
—2 Cor. 4:6 NKJV
I squinted my eyes in the midmorning light of a perfect spring day. I could hardly resist the urge to stop and take it all in. Leaning against my hoe, I looked on while my husband, Peter, worked. He was busy weeding, planting, and doing what he enjoys so much: making our yard a paradise. Over in the plastic pool, giggling uncontrollably, were our girls, Christina and Grace. What a beautiful sight. I breathed in deeply.
I had come a long way to arrive at this moment in time. My heart was full of thankfulness to God. We were all healthy, the sun was shining—life was definitely good.
Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by a distant phone ringing. Dropping the hoe, I made a mad dash to the house. I had no idea at that moment that my life was about to change course—once again—for the call I was running to answer wasn’t just any call; it was “the” call. You know the kind; it raps loudly on the window of your soul, reminding you that there’s more to life than just work, play, and, in our case, gardening. Get moving now, it urges. You have a purpose here on earth. Time is much shorter than you think. Be still. Listen.
I caught the phone just before my answering machine interrupted. “Hello,” I said, cheerfully albeit somewhat out of breath.
“Stowe,” the raspy voice sounded distressed. “I just came back from the doctor…I have inoperable lung cancer.”
I fell back onto the nearest chair. “What?” I whispered. I could barely speak.
“The doctor says with chemo and radiation I might live a year to a year and a half. Without it—maybe six months.”
We hung on the phone a few more minutes, consoling each other as the news sank in. And then, with plans to get together later that day, we said our good-byes. “I love you, Dad…” Click.
Except for the sound of my heavy breath, all was silent. Cloaked in the cool darkness of our basement rec room, I sat there totally stunned. Outside, in our backyard, the world was still sunny, untouched by this latest news. Inside, however, our lives had once again turned on a dime. This can’t be happening. Was cancer going to kill another parent? At seventy–two, Dad was not in the greatest of shape. He had several major things wrong with him, including diabetes, heart disease, and cirrhosis of the liver. In fact, his health was one of the main reasons he had decided to move to Nashville only a year earlier. He wanted to be closer to us…just in case. Still, even knowing he had all these strikes against him, it was hard for me to believe this was happening.
I thought of Peter; I needed to tell him. Walking somberly into the bright sunlight, I went to him, broke the news, and took comfort in his loving arms. There, under the blue sky, we held each other and cried.
Four days after that fateful phone call I had a dream—a dream I believe was sent from God. I awoke with Peter’s arms around me, consoling me and saying, “It’s all right…you’re okay…you were just having a bad dream.”
But it wasn’t just a dream. It was a memory from my subconscious—a wake–up call. But just for a moment, I was still there, in the middle of one of the most memorable and vivid dreams I have ever experienced:
I was shopping in a discount store and had laid my purse down when I noticed a woman picking it up and taking it. I immediately went to her. “Hey, that's my purse,” I said. She slowly turned around and reluctantly gave it back to me. She looked like a sad woman, worn down by life and bad circumstances, maybe someone on drugs. But as I studied her a little more, I realized she looked familiar. “Debra?” I asked tentatively.
For just a moment our eyes met. “Yes,” she softly answered.
“Weren’t you and I in a home together?”
“Yeah.” She was staring down at the ground now.
“Well, how’s it going?”
She took a shallow breath and said, “Not too good…I don't have any money.”
“Oh, well, I’ve got a few dollars you can have,” I said, pulling out my wallet and opening it toward her. She reached out, grabbed the money, and left—no thanks, no good-bye. I watched as she walked away, thinking about what a miserable life she must have. Then I looked back down into my wallet. “Oh, no!” She had taken my credit card!
I raced through the store and caught up with her outside in a sunny courtyard area. She was sitting at a table. “Uh, Debra, I think you accidentally took my credit card. May I have it back?”
Diverting her eyes from mine, she said, “I don't have your credit card. Leave me alone!”
What could I do? I felt so helpless. I wandered over to a picnic table and sat down in an area where the sun was intensely bright. Then, placing my arms on the table, I began to cry the tears of a victim; but as they fell, something strange caught my eye. There in the bright sunshine I saw writing and pictures on my arms. They were etched in white, which fascinated me. How did they get there? I wondered. Why are they white? I could not quite make out exactly what was on my left arm, but what I saw on my right arm shook me at the center of my soul. In bold white letters, it read, I AM AN ABUSED CHILD.
And I began to cry.
I was driving along, talking with a client on my hands-free cell phone, when suddenly…total silence. Our signal was cut off as I drove through a “dead zone.”
Our lives are exactly like that every few miles of our epic journey. Everything is going along so well, we are feeling good, and suddenly “Hello? HELLO?” It seems like we are cut off from God and from the continuous flow of life as we spend the next little while trying to reconnect.
I don’t think it matters how smart, how successful, how spiritual, or how sincere a person is—everyone is going to be regularly thrown a detour in life that forces them to take inventory of their past, present, and future. These events are what make our life story into a compelling journey, with all the dramatic elements of tension, plot twists, character development, and ultimately a climactic resolution where we eternally reconnect to that which we have been seeking all along.
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
—1 Cor. 2:12-13 NIV
I was sitting in my favorite rocking chair and taking in the solitude of a new day when I glanced over at my Bible lying open on the table. I was drawn to the above passage in 1 Corinthians, and as I read I felt a little jolt of excitement, for I realized Paul was telling us that we have been given the Spirit of God—we should have a direct connection with Him, and we should know His very thoughts. What an incredible gift! To know God’s will, even hear His voice—in short, to be connected with the Almighty!
But as I pondered those words, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people feel that they share that kind of connection with God. Only rarely have I felt anything close to that kind of bond, and I’m fairly sure I am not alone.
WHERE IS GOD?
So I was left with this question: If the spirit is our inheritance from God, why do so many of us find ourselves sitting quietly in a darkened room with a heavy heart, not only feeling disconnected from God but, in fact, alienated from Him? I recalled that, over and over in conversations with people, I have heard things like, “How do I know God's will for me?”; “How do I know if God is talking to me?”; and “Is God even listening to me?” The answer sounds simple; even if putting it into practice is one of the hardest things to do: If our relationship with God is strong—if we are in complete harmony with Him—we would know in our hearts His will for us; we would sense His voice speaking to us; and we would feel His Spirit listening to us.
Let me put it to you this way: How often have you known someone so “in tune” with you that you knew their thoughts even before they spoke? Or perhaps an image of that special person crosses your mind and then suddenly the phone rings and you hear that person's voice? Those kinds of relationships, in which our hearts and minds seem to be on the same wavelength, usually come about through a genuine heart connection—but they grow and blossom because of the amount of time we spend together and because of the depth to which we want to truly know a person.
When I look at my life and the lives of others, it’s really not surprising why so many people have a disconnected relationship with God, which in turn can lead to a disconnection with our fellow humans. It seems we too often leave out the relating part of our relationships. Our prayers, when we remember to say them, sound more like a quick wish list followed by an “amen,” and then off to work or play we go. Can you imagine a marriage where one person talks all the time, asking favors of their spouse, then says, “Let it be,” and just walks out of the room? It would end in a quick divorce. No, a good relationship requires communication on both sides.
So with that in mind, how much time each day do we spend with the people in this world who matter most to us—an hour or two, maybe three? Now, how much time each day do we spend in prayer or meditation—talking and, more important, just listening to God—an hour or possibly two? Sadly, for most of us, a more realistic answer would probably be a few minutes a day. At best, that’s all we spend in conversation with our magnificent Creator. We often find ourselves saying, “I’m just too busy,” and yet we spend copious amounts of time with people, TVs, computers, and all sorts of other activities.
Maybe this explains why we have so many unanswered questions about God. Perhaps it is the reason we fail to hear our Heavenly Father’s voice whispering to us over the din of our daily lives. How can we recognize the voice of someone we never listen to?
By not staying in touch with God, we will inevitably question His presence in our lives and wander aimlessly like a lost child in the dark. And when we fail to seek Him for direction on a regular basis, we soon discover ourselves going in circles. Panic sets in, and our childish inner voices begin leading us astray, making it even harder to hear the beckoning call of our Father. And just at the moment when we need Him most, we become doubtful that God can even hear us. We may even feel guilty about begging for His help only when we need it.
God wants to reconnect with us; all we have to do is ask and then be willing to listen. I have learned that He is speaking to us (more often than we might think!), and not only with His voice, but in all sorts of other ways. He uses dreams—ust as He did when He reminded me that I am an abused child—as well as pictures, media, angels, and even regular people to deliver His messages.
If we are not hearing God’s voice, the first thing we might want to pray for is to simply reconnect with Him. We may ask God, in our own sincere words, to help figure out what’s making us feel cut off from Him. There may be hidden doubts, negative inner voices, or hidden resentments that keep us from being in His presence. All these things need to be brought out of the shadows before we can be filled with His peaceful and compassionate Light.
Recognizing the darkness we are in, identifying the experiences that may be casting long shadows, and opening up our hearts to God’s Light are the surest ways of reuniting our spirit with His. And if we are looking for answers, we should try asking questions.
He is waiting for us. No matter where we are in life, He is there—in our joy, in our sadness, in our laughter, in our losses. In fact, some of us have our biggest “God moments” in times of deepest sorrow. We have a sincere need to hear from Him when we are afraid and, at last, cry out to Him: “God, I can’t do this anymore by myself…Help me!” or, “Where are you, Lord? Why don’t you hear me?” It is in these times of great need that we are putting Him to the test and asking something of Him. And I believe God always responds to sincere need.
Just like the compassionate and respectful marriage that Peter and I share, the marriage of our human minds with God’s divine Spirit must communicate our needs and desires for the good of the union. Each of us has received the Spirit of God so that we may connect with our Creator on a daily basis, to share our joys and sorrows, and to feel His incredible love. But it will never be forced upon us; He has given us free will, so connecting with His Spirit is a decision only we can make.
Unfortunately, free will also means that many of us can’t always be counted on to act in our own best interest; thus the journey is a long and painful one. As a child I was at the mercy of others, and I had few choices about how my life would play out. But when I became an adult, the decisions were mine, and it still took a very long time before I reconnected with God’s divine Spirit.
From the Hardcover edition.