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.