It was in the evening when my husband got the call. It’s one of those calls that just pierce your heart and flatten you.
We had been leading the church for around a year when we heard the devastating news that one of our college students that we loved like a son was found dead in his apartment. A heart valve had simply blown and he passed away in an instant.
John was in his early twenties, a semester shy of graduating, about to be engaged, and adored by all who knew him. He was on fire for the Lord and spent his days serving and loving others.
It was a stunning and heartbreaking loss!
We were close to his family and soon-to-be fiancé and supported them as best we could in what would undoubtedly be one of the most painful times they would face.
A couple of days later I get an early morning call from his sister, who asked me to come to the funeral home where the viewing would be later that day. Upon arrival, I met his sister, girlfriend, and a few of their housemates.
We were all huddled together in a pew and John's body was at the front of the sanctuary, casket open. I wasn’t expecting that. I was already nervous about viewing the body later in the day, but had anticipated I could prep myself beforehand. Nope.
One of them began, “I know this is going to sound crazy, but…”
They proceeded to tell me that they all felt God was going to raise John from the dead as they pointed to the empty shell of his body not but six feet away.
I had no idea what to say to that.
I wasn’t sure if this was just grieving young ladies not wanting to accept his death or they were legitimately hearing a word from the Lord.
I just sat there, let them continue, and prayed God would give me the right thing to say. I didn’t want to crush their faith, but I didn’t want them to delay the grieving process either.
I put forth the question, “Do you think maybe you are struggling to accept his death?”
They told me they were not and that a few of them had heard, separately, from God, that John would come back to life.
The biomedical student in the group piped in to tell us how the autopsy would have gone and how God would have to restore all his organs. It was like Elijah pouring water on the wood (1 Kings 18).
They weren’t sure when God would do it... at the funeral the next day, or the one to be held a week later in his hometown.
His sister told me their mother believed God would raise John as as well, so it wasn’t just young-somethings wishing for a different story.
Who was I to question what they felt they heard?
Or was I the only sane person in the group that needed to step up and be the voice of reason right now?
At that moment, a spark of hope began in my heart.
“Why couldn’t God raise him from the dead?”
It’s not as if God hadn’t done that sort of thing before.
So I joined them in praying for his resurrection.
I headed back home and informed my husband what we were praying for but not our children. Our children adored John and been crying off and on since hearing the news.
That night and the next day I didn’t cease praying for him to rise. I had stopped grieving and a joyful anticipation began to fill my heart as I looked forward to what God was about to do.
We arrived as a family to his first funeral where they chose to have an open casket.
Hundreds of friends, family, and college students poured in the funeral home to pay their respects and honor his memory.
My girls were flanked on each side of me and wept for most of the funeral. I was comforting them and vacillating between accepting reality and believing for a miracle.
I kept my eyes glued to his body so that I wouldn’t miss him stir and sit up.
At the close of the service, he was still in the same condition. I was saddened.
I met with the girls and his mother shortly thereafter, and they all believed God was simply planning on doing the miracle at the next funeral. By that point, John would have been dead for over a week.
I continued my fervent prayers and began to notice some things shift in my heart. I had never prayed for something this big and my faith grew. I firmly believed and prayed, "God, You can do this!" I was experiencing a boldness in my prayer life I had never had before.
I went alone to the next funeral, out of town, as I didn’t want the kids to go through another painful service; my husband stayed home with them.
I arrived at the funeral home and my fellow prayer warriors were still on board with the belief that today was the day! I was right there with them!
Again, I found myself at another funeral service with an open casket intently watching a lifeless body in hopes that it would reanimate and bring glory to the power of God.
And again, I was disappointed.
It was over.
It didn’t happen.
I couldn’t believe it.
How could this not happen?
And now I was forced to face the pain.
In meeting with the group after the funeral, they were still believing... I was not.
No matter how much they talked about God still being able to move with a, “He’s not buried yet” mindset, I was no longer willing to join them in that belief.
I had delayed the deep sense of loss and pain of losing this beloved kid for over a week now and I couldn’t hold back the anguish of it any longer.
On the drive home, all the pent up and delayed grief just poured out of me like a tidal wave. I wept so bitterly that I had to pull over multiple times in order to not wreck my car.
I kept asking God, “Why?” Why his death... why this hope. None of it made sense.
I felt like an absolute fool. All I could hear in my head was, “How foolish you were to have hoped!”
And then, as if audible, I heard the Lord’s voice. He flipped the script on me.
“Heather, it is foolish not to hope.” That truth sunk deep into my soul.
I wept some more, but for a different reason as comfort began to fill me.
I was disappointed in God’s plan but I was not disappointed in HIM.
My faith had grown, despite not seeing what I was hoping to see. I was believing God for a miracle, and although I didn’t get the one I wanted, those prayers in bold faith changed me. I had grown closer to God and believed in His power more than I ever had.
I didn't lose faith and begin to doubt that He indeed could have raised the dead, I gained a deep knowing that God had something better. And that brought me comfort in the midst of my grief.
Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Clinging to the Lord in faith and trust while in the midst of hardship brings hope and that hope will not be disappointed!
We are assured of this because God has proved His intention to complete His work in us. And, when the Spirit of God pours His love into our hearts is isn’t a trickle, it’s a deluge!
We should hope for big things because we have a big God and He is worth putting our hope in!
If the thing we hoped for does not come to pass, the key is to maintain our hope in God.
Our God is an all-powerful, compassionate, and loving God and is more than capable of not only raising the dead back to life but breathing life into our circumstances right now. Are you in need of that?
God is worthy of your hope!
Psst… truth is, one day, God will raise John’s body…
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first...” 1 Thessalonians 4:16