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Mourning into Dancing...

You Turned My Mourning into Dancing

A testimony of
Martha and Andy Heath

A testimony of how God transformed the death
Of their eldest son into a new and abundant life

By Martha Heath

I want to begin our testimony by sharing with you what our life was like before Jesus came in and saved us.

Mom Moves to Modesto

In January, 1997 my mom had been at Stanford University Hospital receiving harsh radiation treatments for multiple mialoma. She had been struggling with the disease for twenty-two years. We knew she was dying. She had been going through some especially hard times and Andy and I wanted her to come out to Modesto so she could get some much needed rest. We told her it was just for a couple of weeks, so she agreed.

So, Andy and I went to go pick her up and brought her back to Modesto. When the time came, we took her back for her recheck at Stanford. At that time, the doctor let us know that things were not looking encouraging at all, and asked if she was going to be living with us. We told him yes, and brought her back to Modesto.

By that point, we were taking her to the doctor on almost a weekly basis. It was not easy – not easy by any means. But we had a lot of family around, and they were a big help. I had family out in the Bay Area, and my sister Elena in LeMoore. My adult daughter, Gina, who didn't live with us, would also come down periodically to help out as well. Our house was like ground zero. Aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews … you name it, we had it – almost every weekend. It brought new meaning to the word "full house."

Our son Travis was an angel. He was eleven at the time, and he was grandma’s little nurse. He would take care of her – feed her, get her water, clean up after her when she got sick. He was grandma’s little buddy. They would sit there and watch TV together. They especially liked to watch the Mexican soap operas, wrestling, and cooking shows. While they were watching TV shows, Andy and I were watching a very different scene. We were watching a very different "reality" unfold. We were watching my Mom die.

Cancer is a very ugly thing, and Andy and I got ugly with each other. The stress had to go somewhere, and we unleashed it on each other. We fought all the time. We fought over who was going to take her to the doctor, where people were going to stay when they came over, to what we were going to eat. You name it, we probably fought over it. There was no peace in our house. 1997 was a long and difficult year and 1998 didn’t bring the promise of anything new and different. We had no idea just how different our lives would be just three short months later.

March 20, 1998

Andy had chopped down a tree in the back yard, and I was getting ready to clean up all the branches and debris left on the ground, when I heard the distant sound of sirens in the background. It was the sound of an approaching ambulance, and I listened as it came closer and closer. I recognized that it stopped on the next street over. I got this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, but just kept working.

A little while later Andy came home, and said he had noticed the police cars and ambulance around the corner. We knew the house and the people who lived there. There was a lady living there with two of her little boys and I thought, "Oh God, don’t let anything happen to her boys." When Andy came into the house, a neighbor came over and told him that we needed to go around the corner. It’s nothing that Andy and I have ever talked about, but I am sure that it had to be the hardest thing he has ever had to tell me. He told me that our 22 year old son Dean had been shot. So, we went around the corner and it was Dean.

He had been shot and he died that night.

The first thing that goes through your mind when something like that happens is "if only … if only … if only" and we did that. There was guilt, pain, anger, all those ugly feelings. We went through it. I had to tell my mom and Travis. Here we were waiting for Mom to die (I know that’s an ugly way to put it, but we knew she was dying) and here it was Dean. It was hard telling them. It didn’t get any easier when we had to tell the rest of the family.

The Funeral

My brother, Tony Corrillo, had gone to Victory Life Center and he asked if were were going to have a funeral. I told him no, we were probably just going to have him cremated. He said he could talk to some people at the church and work some things out. So, we had a funeral at Victory Life Center a week later. On that Friday, after the funeral, we were coming home and Travis was in the back seat. He told me that he really liked Victory Life Center and he wished he could come there every Sunday. (He had gone to Victory Life Center with my brother every once in a while – to see plays and stuff like that – and he liked it.)

I thought "OK. Here this little boy just lost his brother, his grandma is going to be dying any minute now, and I need some help. Not only did Travis need help, but I needed help." So I agreed. "We’ll come back this coming Sunday."

Travis gets a lesson in Space Suits

This is how awesome God is. I was so concerned over Travis seeing his brother in a casket. I didn’t want that image to be stuck in his mind forever, and I knew that church could help him deal with a lot of these things. And the first Sunday School class he told me on the way home that that wasn’t really Dean in the casket. That was just a space suit. When we are here on earth, our bodies are like space suits. And when we go up to heaven, our space suits stay here. That was the first time I felt like God answered my prayer.

Travis and I started attending church regularly – twice on Sundays and on Wednesday evenings. And my Mom was around to see that. "Oh, you got that church bug." I said, "Yeah, but it feels good. I like it." We really didn’t talk about church that much. It was a very difficult time for all of us at that time, and I needed some time to get my head together. It was impossible for me to grieve and take care of my dying mother at the same time. So with the help of my sister Elena and Aunts, my Mom agreed to move to LeMoore. It was suppose to be just for a couple of weeks, but it didn’t end up that way. My Mom moved down there in the middle of April and died in a hospital there just three weeks later.

The Trial Begins

The second time I saw God move in my life was the speed of the resulting trial. My son died on March 20, 1998 and by May 10, 1998 the trial had begun and completed itself. I really never knew until talking to some people at a Victim’s Support meeting that trials typically take several months, if not over a year to come to completion.

I was so grateful that God moved, and I didn’t have to endure a long, drawn out trial. If I had to sit there through numerous appearances, I would have been focusing on the legal system and not God. A lengthy trial would have meant anger and carrying on, but God moved and I praise Him for that.

And Dad Makes Three

It was a Wednesday night in July, a few months after Dean’s death, and I came home and saw Andy all dressed up. And I asked him where he was going. He told me that Travis had invited him to church. So, he went with us that night and he felt it too.

On August 12, during a Home Camp meeting, Andy and I accepted the Lord as our Savior. It felt so good; I don’t know if I can capture exactly what was going on for me at that time. I felt like a clay pot. I felt like I had been broken in so may pieces and my Lord and Savior was putting me back. Things just started to happen to me – things evaperating off me. I felt different. I talked different. I treated people different. I felt compassion. The Lord took all that stuff that had built up in my heart over the years, and transplanted the love of Jesus instead! Through Andy, Travis and myself, our family and many of our friends have come to the Lord. What Satin intended for evil, through Dean’s death, God has worked His Good. What should have been the worst year of my life, wasn’t. It was hard losing Dean and my Mom thirty-something days apart, but God made it the best year of my life. Jesus restored our marriage. He brought peace into our house. He gave me an understanding of life I never had before.

What Jesus Christ has done for me is a God thing. It’s only something God could have done. When my son died, I didn’t want to live. I couldn’t live with myself. My marriage wouldn’t have lasted, but God made us one. Now, I thank God for my husband. From the very beginning, we have been on the same page spiritually. The love and desire we have to please God is so awesome. And we are so blessed to be a part of Victory Life Center.

Closure through Forgiveness

My God made it possible to live across the street from the parent’s whose boy shot our son. I prayed every morning when I stepped out my door, and every evening when I came back home. At first the prayer was just about being able to cope. Then it evolved into a genuine prayer of peace and forgiveness toward that household. It wasn’t anything that either Andy or myself chose out of our will, but through the love and grace of Jesus. Andy and I came together, in prayer, in agreement, that the parents of the boy would find the same peace we have found. We prayed in agreement over the house where our son was shot as well.

One day the Lord told me to tell him that I forgive him. By telling that young man, by releasing him, good / great things would happen. On March 26, 2001 we did just that. In a meeting arranged by Victim Services, Andy and I met him and his father at Victory Life Center family room for a mediated meeting. It was anointed. The Lord arranged this meeting, and it was clear that He was in control from the very beginning. Since the young man had finished his sentence, he had been living with his parents, who still live right across the street from Andy and I. We could see that he had made a number of changes in his life, and we were pleased. He dressed well, had a job, and just bought a nice looking car. In the meeting, Andy simply said that he’s forgiven the young man, and was happy to see that he was making so many positive changes in his life. He just wanted the young man to know that our whole family had also been through significant changes since Dean’s death.

When it was my time to speak, I told him that its our Christian responsibility to share how God has changed us through His love. I was not the same crazy lady he knew back then. I talked about change and second chances. I could sense that he knew exactly what I was talking about. Andy asked him point blank, if he had ever received Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life, and he said he had.

Thanks to the life and death of one, many have been touched and changed by the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

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