This concerns an event that happened in 2003 with my sister Angie.

When my sister Angie was sick with depression, the entire family was perpetually in fear of what she might do to herself. Her depression overcame her literally overnight. She was fine on a Thursday, never having experienced depression and anxiety before, then Friday morning she was a different person. She said to me on Friday, “Michael, I don’t know what has happened. Something is the matter with my brain. I think that I have gone insane. I can’t think right and I don’t think it will ever change.” After a few hours, her conversation continued, ”This is just the way I am now and I am so scared that Drew [her then two year old son] will live the rest of his life with his mother in an insane asylum. I don’t think I can live with that.” I did not take her too seriously. “Angie,” I said, ”it will be over tomorrow. Don’t be ridiculous.” When it was not over the next day, we tried to continue to encourage her.

On Monday of the next week, her “episode” had not ceased. My mother called me from Oklahoma and told me that she had been unable to get a hold of Angie all day and was scared that she might have “done something to herself.” Since Angie lived only fifteen minutes from me in Texas, I was the man to go look for her. I drove over to her house and, to make a long story short, found her overdosed on pills in her room. She survived, but the depression survived as well.

Over the next year and a half, I had many calls from my mother to try and find Angie. We often lost contact with her during the day and we would panic thinking she was going to take another attempt at her life. All and all, I had to go over to her house seventeen times to see if she was alive. In great dread, I would always imagine how I might find her dead.

The last time started out as the others. I received a call from my mother who said that she was really worried about Angie. She was doing particularly bad that day and my mom wanted me to check on her once again. I was heading home for lunch from the church and made a u-turn to head to her house. Once I got there, I broke down the door (once again) and was relieved that I did not find her. I called my mother and told her that she was not there and not to worry. My mom said that she wanted me to stay there because she knew that Angie was planning something. I told my mother that if she was planning something, it would have to be with a gun. “Why?” my mother asked. “Because,” I responded, ”she knows that I kick down the door within one hour of us losing touch with her. She knows that pills will not work that fast. If she is coming home, then she is coming home with a gun.”

I granted my mother’s wishes even though I was skeptical that Angie was going to come home. (I thought that she was just at work.) But I was about to change my mind. For some reason I went outside to the side of her house. I don’t remember why. But while there, Angie drove by slowly in her car. As she approached, she made eye contact with me and jumped on the gas and took off. This was bad. I ran to my car and tried to chase her down. But it was too late. There was no way to find her.

I went back to her house and thought through the situation. I was convinced now that she did have a gun and that she was coming home to use it. It is the only way to explain why she took off the moment she saw me. I did not know what to do. Sadly, I proceeded to call my mother intending to tell her that it is just a matter of time before the police call to inform us of Angie’s death. They are going to call and say that they found her in a park or on the side of the road somewhere dead. I did not want to make that call. I put the phone down and decided to drive home first and think about it. Who wants to make such a phone call to your mom?

I was very worried about Angie, but I did not know what to do. I was seen by my family as the savior. I had come to the rescue the first time and I had been on stake out ever since. I did not want to call and admit the final defeat. I thought about praying that I could just drive around in my car and find her, but before the prayer was articulated it faded. It was too big of a miracle to hope for. How could I find her in the Dallas area? Where would I look? So I got into my car and began to head home. The phone was still in my hand ready to make the call to my mom, but for some reason, I decided to look for her. It was silly I know. I did not even know which way to turn out of the neighborhood. Once I got out of the neighborhood, which way would I turn at the light. Once I turn this or that way, which way do I turn at the next intersection? And so on and so on. I thought to myself, which way would I go to kill myself? The only thought that I had was that I would not go away from Oklahoma, our home, but toward it. So I drove to the highway and continued driving. After a while, I thought, “This is worthless. What am I doing. There is no way I am going to find her.” But just then, I looked on the right and there was a hotel. I turned in and drove toward the back looking at the cars in the parking lot. Then I saw it. Her black Mercedes with her physical therapy folders in the rear window. My panic was so great I did not have time to ponder the wonderment of the events that had just transpired.

Again, to make a long story short, I stopped her before she could shoot herself with the gun that she has just purchased two hours before.

Interpreting God at that point seemed to be very easy. That was a miracle. In my mind, there was no way that I could have found Angie without God’s direct hand of intervening guidance. Interpretation: God is not going to let Angie die! That is the way we took it as Angie’s depression continued in the months that followed. This was the comforting subject of discussion between myself, my mother, and my two other sisters as we would talk about the situation. I would tell Angie, “Quit talking about suicide. You should know by know that God is not going to let you die.” Although I could not find a verse in Scripture that said Angie was not going to die, my experience screamed such a testimony.

The problem is, the experience was misleading to all of us. While I believe that the only reason I found Angie that day was the intervening hand of God, I also believe that I interpreted it wrong. Three months later on January 4 of 2004, while I was out looking for my sister on a different highway, I received a phone call that I will never forget. Angie was at a hotel room in Denton Texas, dead — shot to the head by her own hand. God did not use me to save the day. I was not the hero I thought I was. The day was tragically lost. I had to make the phone call to my mother that will live with me as a nightmare until I die.

We had to interpret the experience of three months before anew, in light of the change of events. Did we misinterpret God? Yes. Experience can be a beautiful thing that clearly communicates messages about particulars in our life that cannot be found in Scripture. Indeed, experience is something we cannot live without. But it can also be very misleading, giving us a message in which we set our hope, not realizing that we have misunderstood God’s voice through it. As was the case with me and my family, we took the miraculous events that transpired as a particular message that God was not going to let Angie die. This turned out to be false. God did not speak such a message through those events, even though it was easy to interpret it as such. We must be very careful when interpreting experience.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    13 replies to "Misled By Experience"

    • Michael


      What a powerful and moving testimony. All I can say is…I’m sorry, so sorry. I know you will carry this experience with you for the rest of your life. (I remember your making reference to your sister in one of the earlier DVD’s of our TTP Study.)

      And I echo the previous response. I know we have all “misinterpreted” God’s will in our lives before, to varying degrees…probably many times before…

      These are the types of “life experiences” that have no “human answer” and are SO VERY DIFFICULT to comprehend or handle.

      Thanks for sharing your heart, brother!

      Columbus, Georgia

    • cheryl u

      Michael Patton,

      I’m thinking like the other Michael that commented above that I wish I had said in my first response that I am so sorry that happened to you and to your family. I can’t begin to imagine how hard that must of been for all of you to go through.

    • Greg

      …pardon me for leaving Michael’s name in my previous message…

      I received this devotional e-mail today that really touched me and thought it would appropriate to post here. (I hope that is the case–I’m not accustomed to posting on online blogs.)


      The scene recorded in Luke 24:13-24 fascinates me-two sincere disciples walking along the dusty road to Emmaus telling how the last nail has been driven in Israel’s coffin. God, in disguise, listens patiently, his wounded hands buried deeply in his robe. He must have been touched at the faithfulness of this pair. Yet he also must have been a bit chagrined. He had just gone to hell and back to give heaven to earth, and these two were worried about the political situation of Israel.

      “But we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

      But we had hoped … How often have you heard a phrase like that?

      “We were hoping the doctor would release him.”

      “I had hoped to pass the exam.”

      “We had hoped the surgery would get all the tumor.”

      Words painted gray with disappointment. What we wanted didn’t come.
      What came, we didn’t want. The result? Shattered hope.

      We trudge up the road to Emmaus dragging our sandals in the dust, wondering what we did to deserve such a plight. “What kind of God would let me down like this?”

      You see, the problem with our two heavy-hearted friends was not a lack of faith, but a lack of vision. Their petitions were limited to what they could imagine-an earthly kingdom. Had God answered their prayer, had he granted their hope, the Seven-Day War would have started two thousand years earlier and Jesus would have spent the next forty years training his apostles to be cabinet members. You have to wonder if God’s most merciful act is his refusal to answer some of our prayers.

      Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope. (You may want to read that sentence again.)

      Hope is not what you expect; it is what you would never dream. It is a wild, improbable tale with a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming ending. It’s Abraham adjusting his bifocals so he can see not his grandson, but his son. It’s Moses standing in the Promised Land not with Aaron or Miriam at his side, but with Elijah and the transfigured Christ. And it is the two Emmaus-bound pilgrims reaching out to take a piece of bread only to see that the hands from which it is offered are pierced.

      From Max Lucado

    • Susan

      This just made me cry. Sorry that you have to live with those painful memories, and such a sense of loss….very hard.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides


      “The problem is, the experience was misleading to all of us.

      Did we misinterpret God? Yes. Experience can be a beautiful thing that clearly communicates messages about particulars in our life that cannot be found in Scripture. Indeed, experience is something we cannot live without. But it can also be very misleading, giving us a message in which we set our hope, not realizing that we have misunderstood God’s voice through it.

      We must be very careful when interpreting experience.”


      Minnow from the Belief is No Good without Practice and Other Stupid Statements (Part I’m Done):

      (CMP) “It is only when we have intellectually wrestled with and reflected upon it that we can recognize his majesty.”

      BEEEEEP! Wrong. I can recognize (know, experience, sense) His majesty without intellectually wrestling. I can see, hear, smell, feel, taste and know.

      You continue: “It is only when we recognize his majesty that we can recognize our sinfulness, hopelessness, and helplessness without him.” Perhaps.

      Then you say: “It is only by doctrine—right doctrine—that we can come to a state of brokenness.” Again I disagree. My mind does not have to lead. I am able to be broken through experience that reaches outside of my reasoning mind and that experience can then inform my thinking.”

      Thank you CMP for sharing your experience that experience “can also be very misleading.”

    • Chris Skiles


      I guess I’ve read every account that you have posted concerning Angie’s death and it always breaks my heart for you and your family.
      Your comments about being careful about how we interpret experience reminded me of a book I read about 5 years ago. I’m sure you are familiar with it. DECISION MAKING AND THE WILL OF GOD by Gary Freison. Even though this is about making practical decisions I still feel that it gives great insight into how we must use God’s revealed Word to make decisions and in your family’s case interpret experience.

    • Dr Mike


      I don’t know that you’ve said before that Angie changed overnight the way she did. That does not sound like depression – a psychological phenomenon – but something neurological: not a thought, mood, or experiential problem but something organic.

      Her doctors probably were aware of that and checked into it. But with a brain disorder/malfunction like that, she was doomed from the moment it first appeared. There’s nothing you or anyone else could have done. Including Angie. God wanted her home, I believe.

      I hope you find the grace to one day get her skeletons out of her closet. She wouldn’t want you wrestling with this for so long, would she?

    • John Mitchell

      Michael, I am so sorry for your loss and the pain that you and your family went through. I pray that you will all continue to feel the presence of God, even through this experience of loss. I am humbled and grateful that you would share such a personal experience and the lessons that you are learning with the rest of us, in order to help us grow as well.

      May God continue to show his presence to you and your family, to comfort you and to provide the assurance that you will be reunited with Angie one day.

      God bless you,


    • Dr Mike

      Sorry, Michael.

      The next-to-last sentence should read, “I hope you find the grace to one day get her skeletons out of your closet.”

    • minnow

      CMP–I have always been moved when I read posts about your family experience. You have handled your grief with such grace and vulnerability. At your expense I believe God has taught me what allowing Him to walk with us through/in our pain looks like. Thank you.

      With reference to the comment in which I was quoted above #6:
      CMP–Would you say your “experience” with the circumstances leading up to and including your sister’s death make experiencing God in non-intellectual ways and coming away with a correct understanding of the character and nature of God impossible? And, can, in your opinion, our intellectual reasoning and the ways we decide to interpret scripture also result in incorrect understanding even though we can “show” how we have unwrapped our conclusions carefully, with historical and Biblical support?

    • Mark Friends


      I can relate, maybe more analogously, than directly to what you have experienced. First, my older brother was born severely disabled, and died of pneumonia at age 34. To make a long story short, the number of people that came to the funeral was overwhelming. My brother who could not do a thing for himself, could only communicate (he was intelligent) by movements and sounds, had touched so many people it was well incredible. It wasn’t because of the sin of his parents that he was born, but for the Glory of God.

      Second, my mother lost her mother and her 2nd husband withing 7 days. She died in 2005 of MRSA.

      Third, in December 2007, I had a weird stroke, and this is the part that reminds me of Angie, and was, due to needing a brain MRI, diagnosed with MS. My depression has, I really believe, been at least nearly as deep as your sisters. Medicines have not helped, and I do believe God told me last year that now is not the time for healing. Experiential, and I could be wrong, but nonetheless, regardless of what happens I continue to go on, oh my marriage to a Christian woman, is disintegrating too.

      Do I know if will always make it thru the day? I don’t. So often I get lost in thoughts of dying, depression and pain.

      Maybe I’m not saying anything helpful, I dunno, but I do understand what Angie went thru, way too well. And I am truly sorry for the hand this fallen world has dealt her, you, and your family. Never forget that however we talk about experience, Jesus has been with you every second of every minute of every day of your life and will NEVER EVER leave you.

      And know that Angie is in GOOD hands now. To our God, the only one of whom it can be said that He IS Love and IS Good. We can only attempt to show love, do good, but we are not the essence of these things, He is. Let Him experientially show Himself to you, let Him experientially comfort you. That will be real. The Comforter is waiting for you to ask and He will be there, NOW! Amen and amen, for all time.

      your loving brother,


    • C Michael Patton

      Mark, I am so sorry about the difficulties you have and are experiencing. May God give you strength my friend. Thanks for sharing.

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