Featured article from September's Spirit of Medjugorje

"This is for You"
By Debi Byham
     "I am going to Medjugorje for a miracle," was the last thing I said to my family and friends before boarding the airplane on September 17, 1997. I had no idea, at that time, how God could bring healing or peace into my troubled life. I had suffered from guilt, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for 27 years after a tragic car accident that claimed the lives of three people, including my best friend Debbie. I was the driver. I spent years in therapy, talking with psychiatrists and psychologists. I took antidepressants to get through the day and sleeping pills to get through the night. I even went to a nutritionist, thinking that if I ate better, maybe I would feel better. But none of those things helped. I had no peace and no hope for healing in my future. My soul was in a dark, desperate place. 
     As a last resort, I went to our parish priest and I told him everything about my past. He told me that he knew my friend Debbie's family and that he was even at her funeral in 1969. He told me, "Debbie's mother is a faith-filled woman and she would not want you to suffer like this. You have to get in touch with her." I said there was no way I could meet with her because I did not want to remind her of her daughter who died. He told me he would be remiss in his duty as a priest if he did not intervene in some way. 
     I met with Debbie's mother and brother at a restaurant. One of the first things they said to me was, "We have never blamed you for what happened that night." It felt like they were giving me permission to have a life. I didn't really believe them, because I did not think that kind of forgiveness was possible; however, I was so grateful for their compassion towards me. Debbie's mom told me stories about what it was like in the hospital before her daughter died. Those stories were really difficult and painful for me to hear, and I never thought about them again. Until I went to Medjugorje! 
     One day, my Aunt Eileen called and told me she was going to Medjugorje. "I think you should go with me," she said. "It is a prayerful place and I think you might find peace there." I said I would go with her, even though I knew nothing about Medjugorje. When I told my husband I was going, he asked me why I was going. I told him I was "going for a miracle". I told him that if a miracle did not happen to me, I would not be coming home. And I meant it. In fact, I told him that I needed a sign – a sign so big that it would say, 'Debi, this is for you.' Since I knew God could not change the circumstances of my past, I left for Medjugorje with a heavy heart and with a very narrow view of how big and loving our God really is. 
     As a pilgrim, I visited the holy sites, climbed the mountains, prayed the Rosary, and reflected on the Stations of the Cross. I listened to the sermons of many priests and to the testimonies of the visionaries, who always talked about the importance of forgiveness in attaining peace. I was not sure it was possible for me to forgive myself for all the pain I had caused in so many people's lives. During one of our walks, my aunt and I looked up in the sky and saw the sun spinning, pulsating, and changing size. It seemed to be leaving the sky and coming right up to my face. Beautiful colors were radiating out from around the spinning sun. When this incredibly awesome light show was over, my aunt said, "Debi, you have just seen the miracle of the sun!" Since I did not know the story of Fatima, I did not know what she meant. I also did not know, then, that this miracle of the sun would be a really important sign for me later in my journey.
Debi and her Aunt Eileen at the Blue Cross
Debi and her Aunt Eileen at the Blue Cross
     As we walked up Mt. Krizevac, our priest, in a very prayerful way, would reflect on each Station of the Cross. By the time we got to the Third Station, his reflections were starting to feel like stories from my painful past. It seemed like I was walking up my own Calvary. I wanted to stop. My aunt said, "I know these stories are hard for you." She wanted me to hang in there. I guess I never really understood the Way of the Cross. 
     At the top of the mountain, I saw people walking over to the cross and touching it reverently. I, however, walked off by myself. There I was, on the top of this mountain overlooking all of Medjugorje, and I felt like I was in a bottomless pit. I was so far away from peace and I was pretty sure that, within two days time, when our plane left, I would not be on it. That was my worst moment in Medjugorje. 
     I turned around and saw my aunt and her friend sitting on the ground, quietly praying the Rosary. I went over and sat in front of them, put my face in my hands, and cried my heart out. I was hoping that some of those Hail Marys were for me. My aunt told me later: "When I saw you up there alone, I prayed to the Blessed Mother to come and wrap Her arms around you so you wouldn't be tormented anymore." That day was my birthday. 
     Later that evening, in the lobby of the hotel, I visited with Tom and Jeff, some friends that we met in Medjugorje. With them was Paul, a young man in a wheelchair, who didn't have any legs. When he told me that he lived in the hotel, I was surprised that I had never seen him before. He confided that he was too depressed to come out of his room. I knew exactly what that was like. 
     Tom suggested to us that we go to the Blue Cross. Paul said, "Why are you going there?" Tom said, "To pray." Even though it was after midnight, Jeff and his friend, Joe, said they would go to the Blue Cross. Paul said he would go, but he wasn't going to pray. I said I would go, but I wasn't going to pray either. 
     We climbed up Apparition Hill to the Blue Cross. The guys picked Paul up out of his wheelchair and carried him up the hill. All of a sudden, Paul said, "All you rich people come to Medjugorje looking for miracles. There ain't no miracles here!" That really grabbed at my heart because I went to Medjugorje for a miracle, and I started to cry. Before I knew it, I exploded with the information about that horrible accident, and shared all the details of my past that I had kept hidden for so long. In that moment, Tom put a piece of wood in my hand and said, "This is a relic of the True Cross; hold it." He squeezed it into my hand and prayed out loud for me. Jeff tried to comfort me and said, "God will take care of you." I remember yelling, "Yeah, right! Where's He been all my life?" Paul kept saying: "It was an accident; get over it." 
     Paul lost both legs as a soldier when he stepped on a landmine. I understood the bitterness and pain Paul experienced being a 27-year-old man who would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. But I did not understand him yelling at me to "get over it." 
     All of a sudden, I saw a white light over to my right. As I looked at the light, I saw a woman come out of the light and sit down on a rock near us. She was wearing a long white dress and white veil. She was sitting in a listening pose, her head bent towards us. She looked like a statue: the folds in her dress did not move, her head did not turn. She reminded me of Michelangelo's statue of the Pieta, the Madonna, because she was in that kind of a pose. She seemed to be lit from within – illuminated and glowing. (I am embarrassed to admit that I thought she was rude to sit there and listen to all of the pain in our lives.)
Vicka right before she prayed over Debi
Vicka right before she prayed over Debi
     One of the guys, noticing the time, said it was time to leave. Joe and Tom carried Paul right past this 'lady in white' and walked to the bottom of Apparition Hill. I did not want to walk by her, because I knew she heard everything I said, and I was ashamed. However, the moment I stood, so did she. She walked right up to me and said, "This is for you." I did not even look to see what she was giving me. I was so overwhelmed by her compassion, that I put my arms around her and hugged her. I laid my head on her shoulder and cried. Jeff, standing behind me, kept saying: "Come on, Debi, it's time to go," and he pulled me away from her. When I looked down, I saw that she had given me her white shawl, made of the same fabric as her dress and veil. It was very soft. As I held it, I thought, 'I will always remember what compassion feels like!' Then I looked up into her face and said, "Thank you." She gave me the most wonderful smile, like she loved me. 
     Later, on our way to Vicka's to hear her testimony, I asked Joe who he thought the lady in white was who appeared to us at the Blue Cross. "I think it was the Blessed Mother," he said. When we assembled at Vicka's house, the interpreter was talking about Mary's messages to us. The hardest part of the message, for me, was hearing about forgiveness, because I believed that I would never be able to forgive myself for causing so much pain in so many people's lives. I felt like I was light years away from peace. 
     As Vicka was praying over the group, a conversation that Debbie 's mom had with me that night in the restaurant, that I had blocked out of my mind, came back to me clearly. She had told me that she took a room across from the hospital so that she could go back-and-forth every day to visit her daughter in the burn unit. She always stopped at the chapel to pray to our Blessed Mother. She said that she had a close relationship with Mary because Mary knew what it was like to see Her child suffer and die. (I was really troubled by that story.) One day, while kneeling in the chapel and praying to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, someone tapped Debbie 's mom on the back. She turned around and saw a lady in white standing there. The lady said to her, "Do you have somebody here in the hospital?" She said, "Yes, my daughter is here." This lady in white said to her: "You don't need to pray for your daughter. It is God's Will what happened. You need to pray that you have the grace to accept God's will for your daughter." Then this lady disappeared. She did not walk out of the chapel; she just disappeared. 
     After Debbie died, her mom said, "I know that God sent that lady to me to let me know that Debbie was going to be in Heaven." She told me she never had to go to a support group for parents who have lost a child, because she knew God called her daughter to be with Him. 
     Here I am, standing in front of Vicka, KNOWING that God sent that same lady in white to me. The lady who appeared to my friend's mom in the hospital chapel in 1969 was now appearing to me in 1997. And I knew, without a doubt, that THAT was the 'great big sign' that had my name on it! That was the moment that I knew God was real and that He loved me. When Vicka reached out and prayed over me, I knew God was confirming that He really did send me help from Heaven. The shawl that I was given was truly a gift from the LORD! 
     We went back to the Blue Cross that evening, and this time it was me that wanted to pray. Tom said, "I have to tell you a story". Five years earlier, his uncle, a priest, took a group of pilgrims to Medjugorje. As they climbed Mount Krizevac, they saw a lady in white effortlessly walking above the rocks while everyone else was struggling to climb over the rocks. The pilgrims wanted to talk to her, but they could not catch up to her. The priest told the pilgrims that he would ask Vicka who the 'lady in white' was that everyone saw. Vicka said it was the Blessed Mother, who climbs the mountain every day, praying for peace. That was the moment I knew I would never spend another moment hating myself. I figured that if God loved me that much – that He would send this special lady to me – I needed to forgive myself, and allow God to heal me. 
     One week after I got home, on the night before the anniversary of the car accident, my husband and I drove to a nearby town to pick up his car. I confided to him that I was nervous about going to work the next day, as that anniversary date was always so painful to me. I was afraid my memories would crash over me and I would lose my composure at work. As I pulled out of the parking lot of the car dealer, I could not see out my windshield. Even though it wasn't dark yet, I couldn't see the road. I stopped my car, put my window down, and looked out to see what the problem could be. I saw the sun spinning; it was pulsating and the colors were radiating out from it. The sun was leaving the sky and coming right up to my face. I thought, 'Wow! The miracle of the sun at home! I thought Mary lived in Medjugorje!' 
     That night I consecrated myself and my family to God and to the Blessed Mother. I knew She was saying that I was going to be all right tomorrow, the anniversary date of the accident, and through all of my tomorrows, because She would be with me. 
     When I woke up the next day, instead of thinking about the car accident, I thought about the beauty and awesomeness of seeing the miracle of the sun in my hometown. That image got me through the whole day. When I got home from work, I went upstairs to my room and got all of the medication out of my drawer and I threw it away. I then called the psychiatrist and said, "I need to come down one more time. I want to say goodbye." Even though this doctor was not Catholic, he believed every word I shared and was moved by my story. He said, "I am so happy for you, but I am so sad that it took 27 years for you to experience peace." I happily reminded him that indeed, 27 years is a long time to suffer. But in God's time, 27 years is a blink of the eye!
Debi with her shawl in 1997
Debi with her shawl in 1997
     I have learned through this experience that "Better is one day in His court than a thousand elsewhere" (Psalm 84:10). I now have a much clearer picture of the value of suffering. For me, pain and healing have brought me closer to God, hence the joy and peace in my life today. 
     Mary's messages to the world came alive for me after my return home. I bought my first Bible because I was filled with a desire to read, know and live the Word of God. Even though I had been going to daily Mass for over 25 years, I went because I was desperate for a healing word from the priest. Now I go to daily Mass to celebrate God's goodness and to thank Him for His presence in my life. 
     Now, as I celebrate the 20th anniversary of that first pilgrimage to Medjugorje, I can say that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE WITH THE LORD! One important lesson I have learned through this experience is that love, forgiveness, and reconciliation are not just gifts from the LORD to us. They are to be gifts we give to each other. 
     Note: All five of us at the Blue Cross that night saw the 'lady in white.' Her appearing to us changed all of us in a myriad of ways. But that's another story. 

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