Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 3 of 3

At then end of part 2, I explained how had just spent several hours praying.  Praying for a family in our church that had just lost a teenage son in an automobile accident and praying for members of my family who had turned their back on God and the Christian faith.  I had returned to bed to get some sleep.

In the wee hours of that morning, I found myself awake again.  But it wasn’t due to a nudge from God.  It was a phone call from my parents.  We all know that when the phone rings at 2:00 AM, it is rarely a good thing.  All I could hear on the other end of the phone was both sobbing and hysterics.  My mom was sobbing and my dad , in the background, was quite noticeably upset.   The only thing I could make out, was the word, Michelle.    And then….. Michelle is gone.  I said, “What do you mean Michelle is gone.  Like, she’s missing?    The answer was, “No, she passed away tonight.  We need you to come to over to our house right now.”

I hung up the phone, looked at my husband and proceeded to fall apart.  I fell apart for the obvious reason, my sister had died.  But IMMENSE sorrow filled by entire being as I thought about the possibility of where Michelle might be.  Heaven is real.  So is hell.   I began to visibly shake and became inconsolable.  I could NOT bear this thought.  I just remember saying over and over, NO, NO, NO, NO.  This just CANNOT be happening.   Why, God, Why?  Why didn’t you give her more time to find you?  Why would you let this happen NOW?  

My husband reminded me that we needed to get over to my parents house.  Our children were sound asleep and my parents lived 2 blocks from us so we wrote our kids a note (in the rare event that they would wake up) just telling them that we had to go to grandpa and grandma’s house and would be back soon.  

At my parents house, we learned that Michelle had recently had surgery but she was at home recuperating.  And then something went terribly wrong.  A blood clot had broken loose and landed in one of her lungs, and as you already know, she didn’t make it.   We sat in my parents living room, numb.  One minute in complete shock not really knowing how to process all of this and the next minute crying so hard we could hardly breathe.  My sister lived in Alaska, which at the time, might as well have been on another continent.  It seemed that far away.   

The wait to see Michelle was excruciatingly long.  Funeral services would be held in Alaska first and then in Iowa.  Arrangements had to be made to transport Michelle across state lines.  This all took time.   While Michelle’s husband planned the funeral services in Alaska,  my parents and I worked on the funeral service to be held in Iowa.  As anyone who has planned a funeral knows, the week to ten days after someone’s death has occurred, those left to make arrangements for the funeral enter into a kind of  “auto pilot” mode.  There are things that have to be taken care of, so you go through those motions and do what you have to do.  The numb feeling never really leaves you for quite some time.

One of the things that has to be taken care of,  is visiting a local florist to order a casket spray and other flowers for the service.  My dad wasn’t really into flowers so my mom and I went together to take care of this.  We walked into the floral shop and started looking through photo albums of different floral arrangements that we could select.  All the while in this kind of fog, where your brain can’t really process decisions very well.  It’s all overwhelming.  My mom then closed the books and said, “I know what I want, but I don’t know if you can get them in December.  My daughter’s favorite flower is a TULIP!  If you can get them, I want TULIPS.”

I am not kidding you or exaggerating one bit when I tell you that I immediately had one of those weird out-of-body experiences.  I could no longer hear the voices around me.  It was as if God pulled me out of that situation for 30 seconds and instantly took me back, to just two weeks earlier, when I unknowingly purchased TWO HUNDRED TULIPS.  Visions from that day quickly flashed through my mind.  Finding those tulips at a cost of next to nothing.  Throwing 4 bags of tulips in my cart.  Dumping the tulips out on the garage floor.  Realizing how many I had, but vowing to not throw any away and planting ALL those tulips. All of these scenes played through my mind in about 5 seconds.   Finding those tulips on Veteran’s Day in 2001 was no coincidence.  This my friends, is nothing short of God’s Amazing Grace!   Those tulips were woven into that day by the Master Weaver.   I was soon snapped back into the task at hand but remember standing there in complete shock and awe realizing just how personal God is, with His gifts of grace.  

Over the course of the next several days, God’s Spirit began revealing more of God’s grace to me.  God knew my heart was carrying a heavy load not only because of Michelle’s death but because hell is a real place.  God allowed me to pick up the broken pieces of my heart and start putting them back together.   The finished puzzle was a beautiful picture that only God could create.   You see, because of the time difference between Alaska and Iowa, God showed me something truly remarkable.  As I put the pieces together, I saw myself passionately and fervently praying for my sister in the HOURS JUST PRIOR TO, and quite possibly even during her passing.  REALLY, GOD… YOU ARE REMARKABLE!   As I allowed this to sink in, A peace encircled me and pierced my heart and mind.  A peace that passes all human understanding.  A peace that was imparted to me by God and continues to this day to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus concerning Michelle.  I went from completely distraught to completely at peace.  God is the only one who has the ability to accomplish such a task in our souls.  

Did Michelle acknowledge her need for Jesus that night, before it was too late?  I don’t know.  God is the only one who knows this.  But, here is what I DO know.

  • God knew I was going to need some tulips in my yard in the spring of 2002.  A beautiful and very personal reminder of my sister. He orchestrated the events that would make this a reality.  THIS IS GRACE.
  • God loved me enough to allow sleep to evade me on November 27, 2001.  He sent me to my knees in prayer for several people that night,  but stirred my heart to concentrate the biggest portion of my prayers towards my sister.  THIS IS GRACE.
  • Our battles are not against flesh and blood.  I was not “battling” my sister when it came to her belief of Jesus Christ.  For we battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  ~ Ephesians 6:10-12.   Ephesians goes on to say that the only way we can successfully fight against these forces is with God’s Armor.  This armor includes the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God,  and PRAYER.  I know that night when my knees hit the floor it was not in defeat.  Quite the opposite.  I came fully dressed for battle, wearing the very armor of God.  The sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) was drawn, and fighting a mighty battle that night.  I PRAYED and PRAYER stirs the power of our mighty God to fight on our behalf.   THIS IS GRACE.

God’s grace is defined as unmerited favor.  We can do nothing to earn it.  The word grace, can also be translated to mean blessing or kindness.  God’s grace culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Jesus is God’s ultimate gift of grace to us. However I believe that God pours out His grace to us in an ongoing, lavish manner.  

Because of the events that God wove together just prior to Michelle’s death, I have HOPE!  Hope that when the Master Weaver wove these truly remarkable circumstances together, it was for someone’s good and His glory.     God answered my prayers from that night.  He has allowed me to  grieve my sister’s death with HOPE.  Not because I know she is in heaven with Jesus, (because I don’t know that) but because God and I together, engaged the enemy in a mighty battle that night.  I have Hope that the battle being waged in the heavenly places that night was met with enough of God’s armor to claim the victory of  salvation for Michelle Sue Gearhart.  That my friends, is all the hope I need!   

Thank you Lord God for your peace that passes understanding that continues to guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus now and for all the days of my life!  I stand in awe of You!  Amen.

I pray that YOU can see God’s grace in each and every day and especially in the middle of the hard days that eventually find us all.   Grace can be found in something as small as a tulip and in something as annoying as a sleepless night.  






Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 2 of 3

I wrapped up part one of this story after I told you about the 200 tulip bulbs I had finished planting on an unseasonably warm Veteran’s Day in 2001.  As I put the last few bulbs in the ground and cleaned up my gardening tools for the year (again), I had absolutely no idea the significance that this day would bring to me in just a few short weeks.

Veteran’s Day came and went and the reality that the holidays were upon us turned my attention, full force, in preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Our children at that time were 15, 12 and 9, so our schedules were busy, busy, busy and organization was needed to maintain any kind of sanity.  Maintaining our sanity during these years and the following teenage years might be open for debate!

Thanksgiving had now come to pass and late November was upon us.  I went to bed one night completely exhausted but not able to fall asleep.  I tossed and turned and tossed and turned some more.  I remember laying there thinking about a family in our church who had lost a teenage son in a car accident just a few weeks earlier.  My heart was heavy for them and the grief they were experiencing.  Their lives had been turned upside down in the blink of an eye and I could not imagine their pain.  I grew more and more restless and I just could not fall asleep.   God’s Spirit nudged me.  The thought to get up and pray entered my mind.   Most of the time I have to pray out loud.  Otherwise my mind gets distracted and the next thing I know, I’m running the next day’s schedule through my mind.  I didn’t want to bother my hubby, so I got up and went to the living room to pray.

To pray for the people and lives that had been forever changed by this tragic loss.  I tried to wrap my head around the indescribable grief and heartache this family was feeling.    I remember thinking, how does this family lose a child, grandchild, brother,  and find the desire to even get out of bed?  How do you lose someone you love so much and not let the grief absolutely consume you?   How does a parent lose a child and smile or laugh again?  How does a person experience such grief and ever start doing “normal” things again?  The lists in my mind went on and one.  The only conclusion I could come to and begin to reconcile any of this,  was God.  God’s mercy.  God’s grace.  God’s compassion.  God’s love.  God’s presence.  God’s loving kindness.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Spirit.  I knew that God and only God would be the answer to all those questions.   I also knew that this family knew God.  They didn’t just know OF Him, they KNEW HIM in a very personal way.  This family, including their son, knew Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  This family knew that they were sinners in need of a savior.  They had put their trust in Jesus, turned their lives over to Him and followed hard after Him.  Did this fact take their grief away?  Not one bit!  But,  it gave them HOPE!   Grieving with hope is an incredible gift.




My thoughts shifted to our own family.  I knew if our family ever had to endure this kind of grief,  God would be the lifter of our heads and the catcher of our tears.  I made a request to my Heavenly Father that night.  I asked Him to hold us close, and cover us with His compassion and love should something like this happen to our family.

I knew that the only way our family could bear the weight of death was through the power imparted to us through the relationship we have, with the One who has overcome death.   I knew the relationship I had with Jesus would not make grief easy, but I prayed that night that He would sustain me with His righteous right hand if I find myself in a season of grief.   

As I prayed for our family, a new heaviness gripped my heart.  Michelle.   Michelle was my younger sister by 4 years.  Michelle was the spirited, adventurous type who let nothing or no one hold her back from what she set her mind to.  Brave.  Strong willed.  Passionate about the causes close to her heart.  All in, all the time.  She lived outside the box and was her own person.  Confident.  Smart.  Energetic.  Spunky.  Opinionated.  She did not follow the beaten path, but blazed her own trail.  A fantastic Aunt who loved my children with her whole heart.  I admired her for these traits, many of which I did not possess.

So, why did Michelle bring a heaviness to my heart?  She had abandoned Christianity.  She had turned her back on God.  She was embracing and putting her hope in something other than Jesus Christ.   This burdened my heart.  I had tried a few times to talk to Michelle about Jesus.  I tried to explain to her that there was a HUGE difference between the legalistic ways of religion and Christ.  I tried telling her that Christ wanted a relationship.  I wrote her a letter once, pouring my heart out to her over this matter.  It was met with silence, lingering ongoing deafening silence.

So in this night of sleeplessness, I prayed passionately and fervently for my sister and her husband.  I prayed scripture over them, I prayed and prayed some more.  I asked God to soften their hearts and remove the veil from their eyes so that they may recognize Jesus Christ and their need for Him in their lives.  I told God that night, that should anyone in my family pass away, I wanted to be able to grieve with HOPE.  When I stopped praying and lifted my head, the clock had moved ahead 3 hours.  I returned to bed hoping to get some sleep.

Continued and concluded in part 3 of this series


Tulips and God’s Grace – Part 1 of 3

This story, about how I found God’s grace in something as simple as tulips, is a bit long.  So with that in mind, I have divided this story into 3 parts.   This way, if someone wants to read it, they can read a section at a time and come back for subsequent parts on their own time schedule.  

It was the fall of 2001 and the autumn season was lingering.  When I was growing up, my mom always called this warm fall weather, an indian summer.  I was loving every minute of it as fall is my very favorite time of year.  I LOVE everything about it.  Football.  Crisp mornings and mild afternoons that lend well to shorts and a sweatshirt.  Bonfires.  The colors of God’s paintbrush.  Pumpkins.  Hay rides.  Apple orchards.  Indian corn.  Chili. Lazy walks with crunching leaves.  Harvest moons.  Combines and wagons.  Ham sandwiches on the tailgate of a truck in the middle of a corn field.  So the unseasonably warm weather that was lasting well into late November was fine by me.  

I have worked in the banking industry for the majority of my adult life.  So this meant that I got a few extra holidays throughout the year.  Veteran’s Day was one of those extra holidays.  I generally have the news on in the morning while we are getting our day started.    Veteran’s Day would bring special segments that would air, reflecting on those who have served our country and honoring their service.  I would linger for a while to watch these segments and feel thankful for the country in which I live and for those who have made individual sacrifices for the benefit of many.  But I’m ashamed to admit that my focus soon turned to planning out the rest of my day.

**Note  (In the last 7 years, I have personally experienced the many sacrifices that military families make. While I have never had to deal with someone close to me paying the ultimate sacrifice for our country, I have seen great sacrifice up close and personal none the less. My son-in-law has been deployed 4 times during active conflicts in the middle east.  He, our daughter and our granddaughter have sacrificed mightily for this great country of ours.   I now have a deeper respect and reverence for our soldiers and their families than I did 16 years ago)

So, on to how I planned to spend the rest of that day.  Since I had the day off, I had planned to head to the city and start some Christmas shopping.  I have always had a goal to get my Christmas shopping done BEFORE December.  I don’t do crowds, or congested parking lots, or long lines.  The emphasis on santa everywhere you turn gets me riled up, so I just try to avoid shopping after the calendar says December.  So, over the river and through the woods to the big city I went.

My first stop was at one of those big box stores to stock up on necessities.  In 2011, we had 5 of us in the house and went through toilet paper like nothing you’ve ever seen.   While I was there, something else caught my eye.  (This ALWAYS happens to me. I swear they know I’m coming and they know my weakness and they place it front and center as I enter the store.)  On this particular day, the “something else” that caught my eye was tulip bulbs.  And let me tell you, they had those things marked down to next to nothing.  Remember, it was November 11th after all.  I’m an avid gardener and an avid gardener doesn’t pass up tulip bulbs when the store is practically paying you to take them off their hands.  I was flipping excited!  I didn’t have a single tulip in my landscaping and I was already plotting the whereabouts of their planting as I stood there smitten over my bargain.    I hurried myself along thinking that if I got home in time, I could get these babies in the ground later that afternoon.

I must have stayed on task and scurried along  because I did arrive back home around 3:00 that afternoon.  I gathered the 4 bags of tulip bulbs that I had bought, a spade and some bone meal.  I dumped out the first a bag of tulip bulbs on my garage floor and realized something. Big box stores don’t sell anything in small quantities.  Evidently this was true for tulip bulbs as well.  Each bag didn’t contain 10 or 12 tulip bulbs like most places sell.  Each bag had 50.  That’s right, FIFTY tulip bulbs.  50 tulips X 4 bags =  TWO HUNDRED tulip bulbs.  Now, here is a little fact for you about avid gardeners, we rarely throw plants away.  It is the cardinal sin in the gardening world.  So……. over the next two days, I found spots for all 200 tulips.

Continued in part 2 of this series