This is the first in a series of “Stories of Hope,” in which ordinary people share how hope makes them live differently. To read the introduction, click here. If you have a story of hope you’d like to share, why not send me a message?
Judy Gillis is someone I am honoured to call friend, someone who has been into the valley of the shadow of death and has come out the other side somehow radiant. If you’ve ever dealt with deep loss, her story will resonate. You’ll find out what hope looks like to her. Thanks for sharing, Judy!
Today, I saw someone I hadn’t seen in quite a few months. As we were catching up, we got to talking about the car accident, the one that instantly took our youngest daughter’s life back in October 2013, the one that turned all of our lives upside down. My friend had seen the notice in the paper and wanted to know a few details. I’m okay talking about it… now.
Of course, whenever I talk about it, I still have to kind of separate myself from the fact that I’m talking about my baby girl. She was 21 … far from home, living in her car, trying to make her way in the world, and trying to find a place to live. She was so tired; she fell asleep at the wheel … and losing her was harder than any one event I’ve ever had to go through. And yes, there are times – many times – I long to feel her arms around me, to hear her laughter or to see some of the zany facial expressions she used to come out with.
But … so many amazing things have happened that we could never have predicted – so many people have been touched and helped by her story that there is a part of me that understands (in some small way) some of why God welcomed a homeless girl into the best home she could possibly imagine!
I often thank God that He reached down into her heart and showed her that He is real, that she embraced Him only a little over a month before she died. We were able to share wonderful things with each other in those last 35 days. She still had a lot of rough edges (but then again, so do I. So does everyone.) Her conversion – her “white light” experience as I sometimes call it – has given me such comfort. Knowing that right now she is happier than she ever could have been here, and that I will see her again, helps me get through the tough times when I see someone who looks like her, or I hear a song she used to sing off-key on purpose just to make me laugh. The tears spring to my eyes … and that’s okay. It’s okay to miss her. It’s okay.
I get to tell her story often, and in the telling, I heal a bit more because her story reminds me that no life ever goes unnoticed. Every person has great worth. God is still in control, even when it seems like life is crazy and the pain is so great and so senseless. The very areas in which I have been wounded – those self-same hurts, that grief, those tears – God takes those and turns them around for good … so that when someone else is going through a hard place, I can empathize and come alongside that person with assurance that “He’s GOT this.” It’s not just words. It’s real. He is really there.
That’s really what hope is. It’s not the “I hope I win the lottery” kind of hope. It’s a knowing, a settled feeling, a sense that all is well. It’s a deep-seated assurance, based on a personal and vital experience with God. She had that. She had such a child-like faith, a calm assurance that everything was going to be all right – and I believe that if she wanted to leave a legacy behind, it would be that “I-know-so because He-said-so” kind of rock-solid confidence. That’s the kind of hope that is an anchor for the soul. He gives that.
So many times, I hear people say to me that God took our little girl (for one reason or another, maybe He needed another angel … or whatever the case may be). My hope, my trust in Him is not based on some arbitrary version of a God who would “take” someone, who would rob a parent of a beloved child. It might be seen as a matter of semantics, but I believe that God didn’t “take” her; He knew she was coming and He welcomed her home.
More than ever I believe that He is love. More than ever before, I believe that He is in control, that He works all things – even the seemingly horrible ones – together so that we can be more like Him (which is the best good there is!) I’ve seen Him do way too much in too many people’s lives (including my own) to believe otherwise.
Like today – my friend heard me talk about the accident, how the peaceful and tangible presence of God was in that car that night, and she felt what she described as “goosebumps” all the way down to her feet. I was able to give her my blog address on one of her appointment cards, and tell her how to find the posts I linked to, above, so that she could find out more about the few weeks prior to the accident. She thanked me and put the card in her pocket after writing my name on it beside the blog address.
This kind of thing happens quite a bit. God opens doors for me to share how amazing He is, and I just walk through them. And I am so very glad He does it.
You can read more about Judy’s journey at her blogs Get Unwrapped and Iconoclastic.
What a beautiful expression of peace and hope! It's so hard at times to try to understand "what God was thinking" when He allows things to happen. Some things just seem so purposeless and tragic. But this is a wonderful example of how God uses those things to bring glory to His Name! Thank you for this reminder.
Thank you for sharing this Judy. I so appreciated your perspective on God "welcoming" His loved ones home.
My husband planted narcissus – perennials – beside her headstone last fall. Every spring, we will look forward to the visual reminder that her life just keeps on giving beauty to the world. But we also see it so often in the lives of the people she touched with her own. Hardly a week goes by but we notice something, some spark of life ignited in someone's life because of her legacy. It is an honour to tell her story.