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May19ThuLinda Wheadon's guilt threatened to overwhelm her until a caring Salvation Army church opened its doors. May 19, 2016 by Diane Stark
"I love you, Linda. I just want to make sure you know that,” Linda Wheadon's 44-year-old sister, Juanita, said in a long-distance phone call in 2010.
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- Faith & Friends
A week later, Juanita was dead of alcohol poisoning.
For the next four years, Linda lived in a dark place of loneliness and guilt. “I blamed myself. I felt like I should have done more to help her,” Linda says.
Linda gave up on everything that used to be important to her—including church. But that all changed when she and her husband, Gord, accepted Glen Walters' invitation to attend his Christmas pageant.
“A Great Fit”
Linda grew up in Long Harbour, N.L., and attended church regularly as a child. “I always felt a connection to God,” she says. Linda's parents were wonderful people and her childhood was a happy one.
Then everything changed.
A trusted community member began to abuse Linda and three of her sisters. “This was back when things like this weren't talked about,” she explains. “The abuse left me a broken person. For many years, I couldn't believe that anyone could ever love me.”
Later, Linda sought professional help to heal from the abuse. “I chose to get help, but my sister chose a different route,” she says. “The path I took was the harder one, but it led to healing.”
In 1981, Linda married. She had two sons before the marriage fell apart. “When I was married, I attended my husband's church,” she says. “When that ended, I continued to pray, but I realized how much I missed having a church family. I felt lost.”
In 2002, she married Gord Wheadon and life was good again—until that tragic day in December 2010.
“When my sister died, I became a broken woman,” she said. “The weight of my grief and guilt was too much to bear. Her death was more than I could handle. I kept working and volunteering, but everything else went by the wayside.”
Linda worked as a teaching assistant for children with special needs. “My job is challenging and rewarding,” Linda smiles. “And when one of my students needed someone to help him, I knew right away that Gord would be a great fit.”
“When Gord came home and told me about Glen's invitation to the Christmas pageant, I was excited to go,” Linda continues. But while she enjoyed the pageant, she didn't return to church the following Sunday as Gord did.
“I didn't go because I didn't think that I would belong,” Linda says. “I'd been hurt so many times in my life, and I was worried that I would not be loved and accepted at church, even though Gord spoke of it so highly.”
Week after week for nearly a year, Linda would lie in bed while her husband got ready for church and wish that she had the courage to go with him.
“One morning, I just got up, got dressed and went with him. When we got there, it was like the people there had been waiting for me all along. And once I went, I couldn't wait to go back.”
Week after week, Linda cried through church services. “I was a lost, broken soul and I desperately wanted to forgive myself for my sister's death,” she says.
On January 19, 2014, Linda sat in church and listened to the band play the chorus, “When He was on the cross, I was on His mind.” And she knew.
“That morning, I needed forgiveness. I went up to the front of the church and received salvation. And immediately, that heavy burden I'd carried for the last four years was lifted.”
Dealing With Loss
“Before I asked God into my life, all I felt was pain, anger and guilt,” Linda continues. “But afterward, things were different. I used to have nightmares about the abuse, but I don't anymore. Now, I just talk with God every night, and I am healing from my past.”
Last year, Linda retired from her teaching assistant position. One of her former students was graduating and she needed someone to take care of her during the day while her parents were working.
“I spend each day taking care of Katie, and I love it!” Linda smiles. “She just makes me happy.”
Linda's 21-month-old grandson, Lennon, is another person who makes her happy. “Lennon has helped me deal with the loss of my sister,” she says. “It's like God knew I needed him and He sent him at just the right time.”
Linda feels like a completely different person since becoming a Christian. “It is amazing what a difference God makes in our lives when we invite Him in,” she says.
Linda's husband, Gord, shares his story with Faith & Friends here.