April 26th is very significant to me. Two years ago it was the day that five precious people from Taylor University were killed, and one of them was Laura VanRyn, whose identity was confused for five weeks with that of Whitney Cerak. I know the families have been on Date Line, Oprah, the Today Show, etc. and it’s become a national sensation. Their book, Mistaken Identity, has been # 1 on the NY Times Best Seller List from the first week it was out. It’s a fast read and very gripping!
That event has had a huge impact on me personally because we’ve known the VanRyn family for almost 20 years. In fact, it was Laura’s grandfather, preaching in our home one night when we lived in Marquette, who first inspired us to move to Grand Rapids.
What has been most striking to me about the entire ordeal has been watching Laura’s parents, Don and Susie, and the beauty of their faith shining out in the midst of deep pain…their love and dedication to Laura, and how they recovered so amazingly from the trauma of understanding that the young woman they had served night and day for five weeks was not their beloved daughter. With unbelievable grace they loved Whitney and restored her to her parents. As a member of their church and someone who has had the privilege of working with them in music and other ministries, I stand in awe of their depth and sincerity. Instead of bitterness or anger, I have seen an outpouring of goodness that only God’s Spirit could generate.
April 26th is a terribly important date for me for another reason too. Twenty-nine years ago, when Alan and I were in our 29th year, Alan’s parents died tragically on April 26th. The mistake in identity was that Alan’s father believed himself to be in a hopeless situation. He mistook his own identity, not understanding that no one alive is beyond the hope of God’s grace. Alan’s dad had prostate cancer and became severely depressed, believing erroneously that he had no prospect for the future but to suffer a long and painful course towards death. Alan’s mother had arthritis, and Dad thought she had nothing but a hopeless future ahead for her either, so that night he ended both their lives.
For years I had a recurring nightmare that I was trying to talk Dad out of committing suicide. In my dream, I would be trying to persuade him that he was making a mistake, that his medical condition was not hopeless, and that his soul was not hopelessly lost either. He believed that the only way to get to heaven was by being perfect, and that if he wanted to be a Christian he would have to be perfect, and he knew he could never be perfect. But, he was mistaken. The whole point of Christianity is that Christ lived the perfect life that we could not live; Christ died in our place to take our sins on Himself. In order to become a Christian and go to heaven when we die, we do not have to be perfect, we simply have ask Christ to forgive us for our sins and to be our Lord and Savior. God says that He will pardon us based on Christ’s sacrificial death. It’s not a case of “mistaken identity” at all, but it is a switch in identity! When we accept Christ’s gift of Himself, we become identified with Him, receive His eternal life for ourselves, and become children of God. This doesn’t make us perfect, but we receive all the blessings and privileges that come from being a child of God. God lavishes His care on us even more perfectly and beautifully than the care Don and Susie lavished on Whitney.
God is the most incredibly wonderful father in the world! Thank you, Father, for letting me be your child, and for wanting everyone in the world to be your child! Thank you for saying, “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”