I grew up in a traditional Jewish home. All our grandparents had immigrated from Eastern Europe and Russia, and my parents were a blue-collar family. In most of the Jewish families at that time, boys went to Hebrew school, so that is what I did. I was excited about learning to read Hebrew and learn some new things about the Jewish people. As time went on, the classes began to focus on Bar Mitzvah preparation. But no one ever—neither my parents nor my rabbi—sat down with me to tell me the purpose and the meaning of the Bar Mitzvah. There was no understanding of a relationship with God. It was just learning the rituals, learning Hebrew, but no connection with God at all. But I had been looking for something that would give me some meaning and purpose in life.
I graduated from high school and went off to Penn State. For the next five months, I met off and on with one of the men on campus, and he began to go through portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. We looked at these passages that were supposed to be about the Messiah, but I did not understand their importance; it just did not make any sense to me. So, maybe Jesus rose from the dead, but it meant nothing to me. Well, I was invited to another meeting on campus, and it was as if a veil was lifted. All of a sudden, I understood that Jesus was my Messiah, and at that moment, I embraced Him. I knew that I had to trust Him as my Messiah.
I was reading about the one that I had come to know. At my Bar Mitzvah, I did not have that personal relationship with God, but reading God’s word after having met Jesus as my Messiah, all of a sudden, the Bible came alive. The Bible just becomes God’s personal letter to you. It just changes everything.
My wife, Colleen, and I had only one child, Heather. It was a joy watching Heather grow. Faith was so important to our family that we taught it to Heather too. When Heather was two-and-a-half years old, she began to understand what it meant to have to trust Jesus as her Savior. She made a decision to trust Jesus as her Messiah and asked Him to come into her heart. Heather grew up, and she was a delightful child. In school, she was near the top of her class. In her teenage years, she was the person in class that her friends would come to for advice.
On January 19, 1994, we received a call about a blue car that had been in an accident. Heather had a blue car. I called Heather’s school, and they told me that she had missed her first two classes. At that point, I was extremely upset. I went into the garage and hit the garage door opener. When the garage door had opened only a few feet, I saw a police car pull into the driveway. It was the state police. The officer handed Heather’s driver’s license to me, saying my daughter had been in a fatal car crash. Heather was only seventeen-and-a-half years old. That tragic day changed our lives forever.
Several years ago, Colleen began having problems with her throat. After visiting a couple of ENTs (ear, nose, and throat doctors) and then a neurologist, Colleen was told that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The disease continued to deteriorate to the point where Colleen was no longer able to speak. She was getting weaker, and it was beginning to affect her other muscles until she was no longer able to write. Toward the end, she was suffering tremendously, and she told me that she just wanted to be with the Lord.
One Sunday, Colleen was having trouble with her breathing. A nurse from hospice came over the next day, and she said that it might be best for Colleen to go into the hospice home. I asked, “When would I be able to take her home?” The doctor said, “She won’t be leaving here.” It was about 3:30 in the morning, and two nurses came in and woke me, saying that Colleen was gone. I just stood there, frozen. My wife has passed away. What am I supposed to do?
It was one thing to lose my daughter, but now I had just lost my dear wife. I cried out, “God, You’ve taken away my entire family!” The loneliness I have felt as a result of losing my family was beyond description. When Heather died, I questioned God’s love for a long time. With Colleen’s death, I did not question God’s love. I knew God loved me, and that He loved Colleen—and still does. Colleen had said right after Heather had died that, because Heather had trusted Jesus as her Messiah, she was absolutely in the presence of God, because she placed her trust in Him as her personal savior.
When the Lord took Colleen, I knew that in one instant, she was in this failing human body, and in the next instant, she was with the Lord. I saw God’s grace and His mercy in a way that I had not expected. I did not know what it would look like, and then, I realized, this is what it looks like. God showed His love that way. Colleen and Heather are fully alive with Him. You see, when you come to believe in Jesus as your Messiah, it is not just about what is taking place here on earth. For those who believe that He is who He claimed to be, it means that there is eternal life.