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A Peek Inside the Gate

Matt was my birthday baby, my firstborn. When would God heal him?

An artist's rendering of a heavenly gate

My son, Matt, was diagnosed with leukemia at the end of April 2001. He was 16 years old. We made the trip from our home in Louisiana and checked him into St. Jude Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, for chemotherapy.

Prayer sustained Matt—and our entire family—through those brutal months. No matter what happened, Matt kept an unshakable faith that God would heal him. After several chemo treatments and a stem-cell transplant from his father, the leukemia seemed to go into remission.

Matt stayed at St. Jude so that his health could be monitored, but I slowly got used to the idea that God had performed a miracle. He had saved my son.

If only. In December, Matt relapsed. I knew that his chances of recovering again were slim at best. Matt knew it too. He never talked about it, though. Instead, we all tried our best to be hopeful and upbeat.

“I have 100 percent faith,” Matt said.

But Matt didn’t respond to chemo this time. The medication again made him sick and weak. One night I lay beside Matt in the hospital bed, rubbing his thin back, trying to help him sleep. He was discouraged. So was I. Matt needs me to be strong, I told myself.

His breathing grew more regular and I knew he was asleep. I switched off the light and stared up at the dark ceiling. Lord, what’s going to happen to my son? Tears came to my eyes and I pushed my face into the pillow. Lying there in that hospital bed, I thought of the day Matt was born, November 3, 1984—my 21st birthday. God wouldn’t take my birthday baby away from me, would he?

I squeezed my eyes shut, pushing away that possibility. Suddenly, I wasn’t in the hospital anymore. I was standing in front of a beautiful gate. On the other side, I saw a group of ladies. Among them were Matt’s great-grandmothers, both deceased.

“Is Matthew coming?” one of the ladies asked.

“No, not today,” another said. “Maybe soon.”

I opened my mouth to tell them that Matt wasn’t coming at all, that he was going to get better, but the scene dissolved. I was back in the hospital again.

I got up carefully, so as not to wake Matt, and spread out my blanket and pillow on the sofa. My heart was pounding. Images from the vision swirled in my mind. What did it mean? Why had I seen this glimpse of heaven? Was God trying to tell me something? About Matthew?

No. There’s still time for a miracle. There has to be.

In the next few weeks, hope became harder to hold on to. Alternative chemo treatments weren’t working. The doctors couldn’t control Matt’s white blood cell count. Matt fought hard, but the leukemia had returned with a vengeance.

Matt put on a brave face.

“How’s my favorite patient?” the nurse would ask each day.

“I feel just fine,” Matt invariably replied, even on the worst days. Sometimes I even believed him. My husband, Anthony, arranged to stay with us full-time. Tyler, Matt’s younger brother, switched to a school in Memphis so that he could be there too. Friends and family came and went.

I spent most days sitting by Matt’s bed, crocheting blankets and doing cross-stitch. When Matt was too weak to do anything else, he would hold the yarn for me and make sure it didn’t get tangled.

“When I get out of here, Mom,” he told me, “we’re gonna sit on the couch at home and drink a pitcher of lemonade.”

I didn’t tell Matt about the vision I’d had. I didn’t tell anyone. Sometimes, when I shut my eyes, the image of the gate appeared again. I tried to ignore it. Maybe it doesn’t mean what I think it does, I told myself. Maybe it’s just my imagination. But there was only so long I could deny it.

One night in January, I kissed Matt good-night and lay down on the couch. The room fell away. I was standing in front of the gate. Matt’s two great-grandmothers stood just inside. Their eyes twinkled. They seemed excited. They were waiting for someone.

I turned, and in the distance I saw a figure approaching. It was Matt. He looked thin and tired. His face was gaunt. His steps were slow. Instantly I knew what this meant. I was the only person standing between Matt and the gate, between my son and death.

No, Lord. I can’t let him pass through. I curled up at the foot of the gate and closed my eyes. A gentle voice said, “It’s okay, Gwen. You can sleep here. It’s not time yet.”

On February 14, we learned that Matt had pneumonia brought on by his weakened immune system. One of his lungs had collapsed. His doctors had tried every kind of treatment, but leukemia had consumed my son’s body. “I’m sorry,” the head doctor finally told us, “there’s nothing more we can do. We can care for him here, or you can take him home. Either way, he has a few days at most.”

Matt and I made the long trip back to Louisiana in an ambulance. Anthony, Tyler, friends and family followed by car in one big caravan. I sat beside Matt the whole way, holding his hand.

Bad as things were, I grasped at any shred of hope. Part of me wanted to believe that when we got home, Matt would put on his sneakers and run out into the yard to play football with Tyler.

We pulled up in our driveway. It was good to be home. Lord, if you’re planning a miracle, today’s the day.

We put Matt in a bed in the living room. On February 19, his breathing became slow and painful. Each breath seemed like it could be his last. I couldn’t stand to see my son suffer.

I thought about the people behind the gate, how happy and peaceful they seemed. Would he be better off there? I tried to think of Matt and not myself, but I couldn’t imagine living in a world without him. God, he can’t die. Not my baby.

Night fell. Still Matt hung on. His breathing became labored until finally, it stopped.

I leaned over his bed, holding his hand and counted the seconds, One…two…three. No, this couldn’t be. “Matt!”

I looked up at the dark window over his bed. Two figures in long white robes were there, backs to me, hands crossed to form a seat. Between them, facing me, sat Matt. He was thin and sickly like the boy in the bed, but he wore a pristine white robe. I could see he was worried about me. Mom, this is it, he seemed to say. Can I go?

I froze. The breath caught in my throat. Matt was waiting for my answer. His eyes pleaded for me to tell him it was okay. I put my lips down close to his ear on the pillow. “Go home, Matt,” I whispered. “Go on home.”

Matt let out a long, gentle sigh—a last breath full of relief and peace. I looked toward the window and watched the angels carry my birthday baby away, out into the darkness, toward a single, bright pinpoint of light. Of hope. Of health and happiness and everlasting life beyond the gate.

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