How do you define a miracle?
Lately, I have noticed an abundance of faith-based movies in the theaters. “Heaven is for Real” and “Miracles from Heaven” come to mind. I like these movies where a loved one is extremely sick, and a family’s faith is stretched to the breaking point and even beyond. Then God steps in, and a miracle happens.
Everyone’s faith grows stronger, and all rejoice when they hear a first-person account of their loved one’s trip to heaven and back again. The theater audience usually cheers and claps at the end of the movie as the credits roll. Everybody walks out inspired and feeling terrific. Me too.
But what happens when all you have prayed for doesn’t occur? What if there is no return from heaven, and your loved one dies? Family and friends may react to the sudden loss with disbelief, agonizing grief, extreme sadness, depression, and anger.
They may question why God has abandoned them. Their faith may be crushed or even worse, lost.
I have walked this road. My precious daughter diagnosed with leukemia would begin a fight for her life shortly after her 18th birthday. As a true believer in Jesus, I felt sure God would heal Jenny. So did she. Why wouldn’t he?
A committed Christian, Jenny had so much promise and loved to serve. She knew the Lord would use her mightily in her life’s work. So it was a shock when after four years of chemotherapy, hundreds of blood transfusions, and a bone marrow transplant, Jenny lost her battle.
But she didn’t lose her miracle! And neither did I nor my wife or the dozens of friends and family gathered in her room the night she died. What we witnessed was the next chapter of a life well lived, a life so pleasing to God in the midst of her struggle that he would grace her with his presence in her final moments before ushering her peacefully into his loving arms for all eternity.
And in doing so, blessed all of us in that room with the honor of seeing her lovingly speak with him as he revealed his glory to her.
For those few minutes, calm occupied her room as we waited for her final breath. I was stroking her left arm with my left hand, my right hand cupped under the back of her neck keeping it straight as she lay in a semi-comatose state. Her daddy, so close to her in life, holding her one last time. The end was very close.
I cannot explain what happened next except to say God wanted to give sight to our faith and reveal to us the beauty of a believer coming home to him.
Jenny, who was too weak to move or speak for hours, suddenly sat up in bed, opened her eyes, looked to the heavens and said “Jesus” in a clear voice when she recognized him. Then she laid back down, eyes closed. A few minutes later as I continued to hold her, she asked: “Where’s Mom? Tell her to come join the celebration!”
Claudia came alongside as Jenny, with her eyes still closed, declared “Mom, the celebration,” as if there was a wonderful party going on!
Finally, Jenny sat straight up one more time as if looking at Jesus face to face and lovingly said, “Oh Lord God, your glory is over all the heavens and the Earth.” Those words would be her last.
I looked at Jenny as she laid back, and I saw such peace. I leaned across her to whisper in her right ear, “Jenny, Daddy loves you, and it is OK to go be with Jesus.” I kissed her one last time. Jenny took six more breaths and was gone.
A spontaneous chorus of the old hymn “How Great Thou Art” rang out signaling her departure. An aunt said later, “This was the happiest sad day ever.” I praised God for allowing us to witness this homegoing. As a father, I take much comfort in knowing where my little girl is.
A miracle? Maybe not the one we desired, but a miracle nonetheless. God showed us a glimpse of what awaits us. Jenny’s life was short, but she willingly led us to a deeper understanding of what happens when we breathe our last breath on Earth and at the same moment, take our first breath of glorious heavenly air.
I certainly rejoice with all those parents who get their children back and live long and productive lives. I also rejoice knowing Jenny fulfilled her heavenly father’s assignment on Earth.
I can live with that. Now that is a miracle!
Dean Eller is president and CEO of the Central California Blood Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.