26 07 2016


Last week we showed the Movie, “Miracles from Heaven” at The Lighthouse Church. The Movie is based on the true story of Christy Beam and her intense and passionate journey with God, Family, Friends- Old and New, Feisty and Faithful Church People, Devoted and Disinterested Doctors, Hospitals Near and Far and most importantly her personal Faith. We witness Christy’s battle through the ups and downs caused by her daughter Anna’s suffering from a rare digestive disorder and the miraculous healing that occurs after barely surviving a horrific and freak accident of Anna falling 30 feet to the bottom of a hollow tree. It is at the bottom of that tree while Anna’s body lies hanging in the balance that this little one’s soul is brought into the presence of God. And in a whisper that transcends actual words, the Lord tells Anna that she can’t stay with Him just yet, but when she is returned to her body, she will be healed…and that she is Even the Critics can’t deny the fact that Anna had a terminal disease when she fell, but she literally arose from that tomb with new life. It is a several boxes of tissues movie and Actress Jennifer Garner plays the role of Christy Beam with conviction, honesty and a rawness of character that anyone who has been down this road with their children and loved ones would fully comprehend.   

I can’t lie to you; “Miracles from Heaven” hit me below the belt. It got through my layers of defense mechanisms and literally struck anew the raw nerves of what I have discovered is still a very broken, battered, bruised, but also ultimately a recognizably blessed and grateful heart! My wife Terri and I made eye contact several times as this Video was on the big screen. We both knew internally what Christy Beam and her Husband Kevin were facing for we had been there and done that lap around life’s track more times than I ever cared to get roped into that ride.

As many of you know, our now 25 year old daughter Abbie is a cancer survivor because when she was just 3, there were 8 cancerous tumors discovered on her kidney and since they removed it, she has been thankfully living free of the return of that terrible monster that has visited so many of us. But the year after Abbie’s surgery, our son Nicholas Paul was born on April 5th in Omaha, Nebraska and did not survive the day. We played tug and war with Heaven and lost that struggle as we begged for the healing of our little one and God still took him home. Thinking that something like that could never happen again, you can imagine the sheer numbness as déjà vu ran its course 4 years later here in New Jersey as our son Benjamin joined his Brother in March of 1999.

In 2000, my Hero who also happened to be my Dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer and by September of that year, he too would leave another hole the size of the Grand Canyon in my heart. Somehow I limped on continuing to pastor and serve and shepherd the flock and in 20002, Terri and I were both shocked and scared out of our minds to find out she was pregnant. I will never forget standing in Cape Regional as the Doctors counseled us to do the wise and prudent thing and abort this baby so that we would not have to experience yet another tragedy. I guess to give them the benefit of the doubt; they believed that this would be best for our psyche and everyday mental health. But there was no possible way that Terri and I could ever choose that option and if you were near the chapel that day hearing this guy pray, I would have made Jennifer Garner’s outbursts look tame and passive at best. I screamed out to God begging Him to show up and do something positive for a change! I was angry, hurt, scared and numb all at the same time. Anybody who tells you that if you follow Jesus everything will be absolutely easy and wonderful is lying!

On July 30, 2003, in the wee small hours of the morning- Joel Thomas Sheptock was born. He will turn 13 in a few days. Nobody in the medical field gave him a snowball’s chance in hell to survive, but the cold never bothered me anyway and we witnessed a miracle from Heaven. Joel’s name means Jehovah Elohim: The Lord is God. He may have parents old enough to actually be his grandparents- but if it worked for Abraham and Sarah- it worked for us.

Now if this was Hollywood, the story would end on this high note. Heck, even in life you are taught that you want to go out a winner with a hit in your last at bat. Joel was Terri’s 8th pregnancy and with our 2 miscarriages and Nicholas and Benjamin in Heaven and Rudy, Leah, Abbie and Joel on Earth, it just seemed right. But we don’t write the script and life doesn’t always imitate art. There is a dialogue in the Movie where the Pastor and Christy have this conversation. I have come to know this truth in the pit of my gut even as painful as it was to learn. Pastor: “We can’t choose our neighbors. We just have to love them.” Christy: “Well I’m gonna have to love them from home, because I can’t go to church with them.” Pastor: “That’s not the reason you stopped going. What’s the real reason?” Christy: “Why would a loving God let my little girl suffer the way she is?” Pastor: “Just because she’s suffering doesn’t mean he’s not a loving God.” At the foundation of everything is the reality that if you don’t believe God is good then you will never trust Him!

In June 2005, on the very day that our oldest Son Rudy graduated Middle Township High School, my wife Terri could not be there to celebrate. She was in Cape Regional because earlier that afternoon, our final baby was born and graduated to Heaven before he or she even took a breath of this planet’s air. It was a quiet and surreal afternoon. I held that little one and cried my eyes out yet again. My prayer was something like this, “Why God if you were going to take this one to be with You would you make us have to do this again? Didn’t we get it right the first 4 times?” It made no sense to me. And to allow it to happen on Rudy’s graduation day; what’s with that? I witnessed 2 graduations that day. One event filled my soul and the other happening broke it even further. There would be no “Miracle from Heaven,” that day or at least as we would define it. And maybe therein lies the problem. Maybe you and I have never truly comprehended what makes a miracle just that? 

There is another scene in “Miracles from Heaven” between Anna and her hospital roommate named Haley. This little girl with a form of cancer too would not be mended this side of Glory. Yet one conversation changed her destiny. Haley to Anna: “Why do you want the cross with you?” Anna: “It’s just like a reminder.” Haley: “Of what?” Anna: “That Jesus is with me.” Haley: “Do you think He’s with me too?” Anna: “Of course He is!” 

God, I am thankful that even when I have no clue what You are doing, I still know You. Deep inside I have known You have cared for us, and looked out for us, even when I feel absolutely nothing but pain. Nothing that happens doesn’t have a purpose attached to it and I am grateful that You have used and applied truth as we have even crawled through this life. I will trust You even when I do not know what’s happening- because You are a good, loving, and faithful Father and Your ways are taking us to the ultimate Miracle- being forever together with You! So as I have done many a day, even when I want to punch somebody’s lights out, I raise my arms high into the air with surrendered clenched fists- and I shout defiantly at Hell itself- that even through the storms-God is still God and my only hope! Life will never go my way no matter how hard I pray, but it will always be under the control of the God who is good and in His goodness shows us that when we are weak, we are strong! And that might be the greatest Miracle of all!



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