When you tell someone your story you end up losing a part of yourself that you never intended giving up. It’s like a millstone is dropped from your shoulders and you can breathe a little easier from that day on. Something about letting go of your secrets that grants a freedom unlike any other. You can fly again. Whereas before, your feet were tied to an anchor line which led to the bottom of a pit. Down in that pit are all those doubts and failures that accuse you throughout time. All the “what-if’s” and “oops I shouldn’t have done that” haunt you in that deep core. It’s like confession without the forgiveness. Or maybe there is a sense of forgiveness in the speculation of your heart. The listener does not object to your telling of your story and you take on an air of approval. I do not expect to feel any of that after I tell you this tale. Do not misunderstand me. I do not feel that my sins are beyond reprisal. I have seen through that cloud and am beyond such speculation. But I do mean to emphasize that when I relate this to you I will not be relieved or lightened in heart. My weight is such that I must continue to carry it until the race is done. So why tell my story at all? This story is not for me to lighten my load but rather for your benefit alone. Truly, what can you benefit from this? Is it not just another story in the kaleidoscope of the world? Nay, this is not just my story. This is YOUR story as well. Or rather, this is the story you have been missing all around you. I’ll start where all good stories end. That’s right you heard me. I’m starting where they end. I’m starting this story at the moment I died. What?! You say? You’ll just have to bear with me and grant me a little trust here. All is never as it seems. So there I was…The sky was almost always grey this time of year. People say it rains a lot here in Seattle and it does. But not as much as other places I’ve been. For instance, ten minutes of rain in Georgia seemed the equivalent to a whole day of rain in the Pacific Northwest. But that’s just how it felt. When it poured down in the South, it came down like it meant it. It was a torrent that had energy. This was the opposite. This rain trickled the life from your soul like a slow dripping I.V. bag. I suppose that’s why so many people are depressed in this part of the country. You’d think people would avoid these parts for this reason. People can get used to anything it would seem. Or they just adapt and become a product of their environment. Or they don’t. And they got lost in the grey space in life, waiting for something to happen until they die. I guess that’s where I was until a few moments ago.Looking at yourself is always a quizzical experience. You’re not always convinced that what you’re seeing is the truth. You can pass a thousand mirrors and at that first glance there’s always a fleeting moment of doubt. There’s something untrustworthy about mirrors and vanity perhaps? Either way, that trivial experience doesn’t hold a candle to looking down at your own dead body.There I am, lifeless and waxy in the open air. I was lying just off of a cracked sidewalk. My body was slowly sliding down a muddy hill leading to a fence that would eventually catch my corpse like a net. The road above was empty and the onramp above ensured little notice of this scene. The moment is almost serene and there’s oddness of the clarity.When did I get so old? I’m only thirty-four and I could pass for over fifty. All the associated questions come to bear of course. When did my hair get so thin? Am I really that pale? No, you’re dead you idiot. I’m so damn skinny, when’s the last time I ate? What on Earth am I wearing? It’s like a cloud lifting. An impenetrable haze is gone and questions and realizations are all flooding at once where before there was no such thought. No thought? No, there was no care. Except one.I glance towards the black and purple culprit. Like the fated “black spot” from pirate legends it stares back at me. In the crook of my dead arm it smiles at me in contempt. It’s telling me it won. It beat me. It took me for all I had, even my life. As these very realizations are affirming themselves a figure approaches.Hunched over and carrying a tattered pack the vagrant is unidentifiable beneath the army surplus poncho he wears. He scampers to my body and plucks the needle from my arm.“Ya won’t be needing that it seems…” He holds the needle up into the light as if he were inspecting a rare gem. ”Looks like you saved a drop for me… hehe! Thank you sir!”He proceeds to turning my pockets inside out and even takes my shoes. He takes everything except my pants and shirt. When he’s done he glances about like some sort of vermin that has secured a small prize. Satisfied that the coast is cleared he half limps and half runs to the shelter of the onramp and into the shadows. Even though the lowness of what just occurred should be of no surprise, I do find myself offended in my aware state. I keenly note that my clarity I have regained a sense of morality and self-respect. In my reverie I am completely taken aback as someone addresses me. “Do you want this to be the end?”Another vagrant comes to pilfer my corpse? Are they going to pull my teeth now? But this man is not addressing my corpse. He’s looking at me. Is there even a “me” to look at? I look down to confirm, see the presence of my person I had imagined it, and glance back up.“Excuse me?” is all I can manage.“Is this the end you imagined?” He restates. I look him up and down. For all I can tell he’s another vagrant. Dressed in a long battered rain jacket with a scruffy beard protruding from the hood he has the stance of a servant inquiring of refreshment. Servant? No, that’s not quite right. I remember this. This is a Soldier at Parade Rest.“How can you see me? Are you dead too?” “Dead?” even though his face is hidden I can sense a smile. ”No. Not dead. Very much alive in fact. But that isn’t your concern with your current state of things. Do you want this to be the end? Is this the end you imagined? Before you left from home sixteen years ago, is this where your dreams carried you?”I’m taken aback. How does he know my age? Why does he care? Heck, why does it even matter now? But, all I can manage is a simple “No.”“What would you do if you had a second chance?”“I don’t know. I’ve been lost for long I really haven’t got a clue. Are there second chances? If I’m dead does that mean I’m a ghost? Or am I supposed to see a light?”“Billy, there is no light for you on the path you’ve chosen. Only darkness awaits you.” Cold certainty spreads across my form and a dread I had never imagined possible pulls at me from the inside. My thoughts are flooded with apocalyptic images of hell and demons. Is that real? Is there a God, a Heaven, and a Hell? Whoever this guy is, he knows my name. ”Unless.”“Unless? Unless what?”“There’s another way. A way never walked before. This path is not beaten and must be tread with courage. There is no guarantee that you will prevail. But the alternative is an unimaginable end that is undoubtedly not in your desire. You do have a choice but I have confidence you will choose the hard road opposed to the fast fire.”“Fast fire? Hard Road? Are you saying that there’s a Heaven and a Hell? There’s an almighty God and a Devil? If I don’t choose this “Hard Road” I’m going to Hell?” It was a lot to take in. He couldn’t blame me for being a little distressed right?“Yes.”“Yes?”“Yes.”“Who the hell are you and how do I know any of this is true? I got it. I’m dead. My body is right there that much is clear. Spirits exist; otherwise I wouldn’t be here outside my body. But I’ve never seen a God or Demons or Angels or anything that proves to me that anything you’re saying is true.”The man is suddenly right in front of me. He closes the distance of a few paces in the blink of an eye. I’m so started that I cannot react when he places his hand upon my forehead. The world goes white.It’s not a blinding light. It’s not an empty white space. It’s like walking through clouds. Around me, I sense rather than truly see, rolling mists and vapors. I feel as though there are no weights or cares. This is a place of peace. I feel a sense of clarity and openness that I have never experienced. What is this place? Even as I think the question an answer leaps into my forethoughts. Home? No, that can’t be right.“But it is right.” The voice seems to come from all directions at once. “This is a part of home.” The voice is both commanding and soothing. It carries an authority that cannot be denied and a beauty that cannot be fathomed. I feel so lowly and underserving in its presence. Who is this? Again the answer appears in my mind unrestricted.Father? Brother? King? Husband? Whoa There! That doesn’t make any sense… And yet it does? I know it is Jesus, The Christ, Yahweh, Jehovah, and many more names flash through my mind. I’m struck. Even in the clarity of this place I am stopped in my tracks. The walls of the assumed realities I have built are crashing down. The truth of what I am experiencing crushes everything I have ever thought I knew. “Why now?! Why not before it was too late?!” My anguish, guilt, and loss are overwhelming. If I could cry in this form I’d be on the ground in a ball. Again the clarity spills into my mind. I see myself as a child touching the bark of a tree. Later, while a little older, I am rubbing a stone and pondering its perfection while standing on a riverbank with my friends. Then, when I’m older still, I’m about to pick up a Bible from a bookshelf but dismiss the notion. I can see my spirit in each place of time. I can feel a deeper yearning within myself. The younger me is amazed at the bark of the tree. I feel a strange certainty within my infantile spirit. It doesn’t really question that God made the tree. But the question was rather… How did God do this? My spirit that holds the stone wonders how random forces can create something so perfect. Truly nature could not be random if such events produce such perfect things. The adolescent spirit holds the Bible and is torn with the effects of other’s opinions. The voices of friends and family all stating that a book with such inconsistencies could not be true make me dismiss the idea of reading it for myself. All the truths within these moments hit me at once. I can truly see what is happening in each scene. As my hand touches the tree, God is touching me back as a loving Father. As I hold a stone and ponder creation, God is pulling at the very hand holding the stone. He’s trying to lead me to a place where He can show me His work. As I pick up the Bible, it changes into a letter. The envelope is addressed to me from God Himself. But I chose not to read it.Other truths come into view. Darkness comes into the vision for the first time. Fear, dread, and pain overwhelm me as the truth of these visions strike my core. A serpent I never saw uncoils from the tree and strikes my little fingers. The question: “Is there really a God?” is injected into my mind through venom I never felt. As God is trying to lead me to His place of Revelation on the riverbank, a girl from a few feet away smiles at me. But it’s not just a girl. Behind her I see a vile black spirit that continually changes form. It rapidly takes the form of a filthy prostitute and then dissipates. The word lust comes to my mind and I know it was what caused me to let go of God’s hand. As I hold the Bible, the scene around me consumes my attention. What can only be described as an Angel, beaten and wounded, stands defiant about me. He holds a cracked blade and shield. His wings are bloodied and dirty. He has a multitude of wounds and bandages across his body. But he stands with resolve and determination. All about me, invisible but very real, are dark spirits that continually change form as the one on the riverbank. I recognize them as spirits of doubt, lies, pride, selfishness, and vanity. The Angel is hopelessly outnumbered and can barely manage to keep the monsters at bay. Then, without warning, an enormous dragon rears up. It is a monstrous creature of black shadow and dripping blood. Deadly poison glistens upon the spines that layer upon its back and joints. The dragon is merciless and every sound that comes from its maw materializes into a lie. It strikes the Angel down in a single blow. As I place the Bible back on the shelf, the evil spirits stand over the wounded Angel and mock him with vulgarities and spit upon him. And then I’m in the gentle mists again. My spirit is swaddled in the peaceful vapors and light yet I feel no peace. Truth has penetrated my soul and the cold reality of everything I have been shown, yet should have seen before, is crushing. The feelings of loss are colder than any death in life. Wasted. My life was wasted. A short lived candle that never burned bright enough to be of any use. Never having experienced the real joy and contentment that my soul hungered for, I had missed the whole point of life through my own selfishness, pride, and faith in mere people. So, here at the end of things, I am faced with my failure and wonderment at the purpose of my encounter with the Almighty. Surely, knowing the truth of everything as is the privilege in this place, I know I stand before a loving God. He his sadder for my loss than even I. Why would the chaff for the fire need any softening before the flame? I know my destination is damnation. Why would God want to torment me? “Not torment, my son. Have hope. Have faith in yourself as I do. This time is not without purpose. This is your time. I have waited to call upon you until your heart was ready. I am about to restore you into the battlefield where you will be a fearless warrior that inspires. The weight of your past failures will be lifted and the scars of learning will be your badges of honor. All has happened according to my Father’s will as is perfect for all men. If you accept the grace that has been given through My sacrifice, you will fight on.” The words are like the most soothing balm. If I were a living being the tears would run freely. The hope and joy in the promises I hear are causing what I can only describe as a celebration of universal magnitude within my being. There really isn’t any choice. I want only one thing and that is to please my true Father. I can finally identify my heart’s desire that has been buried for so long.“You’re Jesus, the savior of all men. The image of the Father made flesh to die as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of all mankind. The greatest gift God has ever given. You are the fulfillment of every promise God has made since the beginning. You are the one that death could not claim. In living You stand as a testament that sin and death can never truly claim those that call upon Your Holy Name. And I will strive from this point on in whatever way I am allowed under grace to do God’s will as it is shown to me. I want nothing more to than to redeem my failures and please God.” The mist of this heavenly place has granted me truth and conviction. These words I have spoken have come from the deepest place of my being and I surprise myself with my own eloquence.“Think no more of your past sins. Use what you have learned to help others. Now, awaken from your sleep. Rise, go and be baptized that the change in you may be sealed. Use what you have been shown to help others. Be a shining light that God’s people will see and repent. And remember that I will always be with you until the appointed time of My coming.”As he says this my world goes white again. The peace and clarity are fading as I fade away. I can feel thoughts and truths leaving being locked away again. Things I’m not meant to remember are being stored away until a later time. Then all I can feel is pain and sickness. It’s so intense that I suddenly feel like I just want to die and go back to the peace of the clouds.In an electric spasm my body jutters back to life. I feel my heart leap and flutter as it finds its rhythm. My lungs begin to work air back into my blood and I can feel my muscles begin to work. My muscles cramp in succession across my entire body until a gigantic cramp balls up in my belly. Nausea overcomes me and I roll over and vomit. I empty the contents of my stomach onto the muddy earth and as I look into the milky mess beneath I know assuredly I have been cleansed of the toxins that claimed my life. Though the clarity of the heavenly place is completely gone I have an acute awareness that has evaded me for decades. I can smell the air and appreciate every scent. I can feel the rain and I give thanks to God for its cleansing power. Though the day is grey and dreary I am thankful for my shattered life. I am thankful for a second chance and I know without a shadow of a doubt that God will provide for me.“What now son of God?” The same mysterious man stands before me. His face is still shrouded in the cowl of his rain coat. But I can see his eyes beaming. They’re full of a fantastic glowing life. I can sense his pride in my new self. Only now I remember who he is. I even know his name. Pulling myself from a bent slouch I kneel as gracefully as I can manage.“Marcus, thank you for your protection. Thank you for standing beside me in vigilance through all my failures. I am honored to have been gifted with your protection and fortitude. Even in the end you petitioned for me and my potential. I owe you so much and together we will start to win great victories as the Father wills. Please accept my apology for the past. I hope I can prove to be worthy of your protection and strength… my guardian angel.” This was the fallen warrior in my vision. He had stood by me my entire life to intercede and protect. But he was only half of the team. He needed me to make the right choices or his battle in the heavenly realm was futile. “My faith has always been set firmly Billy. I can see yours is now in bloom. Do not be afraid.”“Wha…?” It’s all I can manage before a brilliant flash blinds me for a few moments. As the haze in my eyes clear I am awestruck. Fear settles upon me. A combination of the immeasurable weight of the presence of power and the destructive capability of a mighty being are vibrating in the air around me. Marcus’ true form is both beautiful and terrifying. Great wings stretch across his back. They constantly shift between three forms. One moment they are the wings of a graceful raptor. Then they fade to wraithlike shadows that can leach life from the air around them. The next instant they are brilliant flames of light that carry the warrior at immeasurable speed. His armor constantly shifts and glimmers. My very thought causes the armor to form and reform into what terrifies me the most. His helm conceals his face and two beams of light settle on me. His eyes can see through the physical into my very spirit. “I will always be at your side. You will not see me again until your appointed time. But know that we fight back to back as brothers through this struggle. I will not fail you as long as you keep looking to the Lord.” He reaches an armored gauntlet out to me, beckoning to grasp his hand. “Until we share in rejoice at the table of the Lord…”I slowly and respectfully clasp hands with the mighty angel. His grip is like a bear trap. Strong and unbreakable, his grip does not slacken until his angelic form fades back into the light and he is gone. Where he once stood the light strikes through the grey clouds and my eyes settle upon a faint rainbow stretching through the sky. I cannot help but smile in wonderment as I bounce to my feet.“Until then my friend… Let’s get to work.” I make my way towards the underpass. A new strength guides my steps. A new confidence settles on me as I realize I have no fear. The Lord is with always and unto the very end.