A Mother's Grief
Micah Johnson, just 21, died suddenly in January after a brief illness
It’s been well over a month now since our family was blindsided by the most devastatingly gut-wrenching, life-changing blow to our hearts – the day our precious daughter and sister, Micah, went to be with her sweet Jesus.To say it was unexpected is the biggest understatement of all time, as the illness came suddenly and was seemingly no different from the many illnesses all kids regularly endure … a couple of days of fever and aches and pains, and then, as expected, a break in the fever Sunday night. I looked at her and said, “Tomorrow’s going to be a new day.” She nodded. Tomorrow came and was it a new day! Just not the new day we expected. Monday, January 29, 2018, Micah, our precious treasure, went home to her reward.
So many friends and family and even strangers have walked this path of grief with us. Our thank-you seems so inadequate. Your outpouring of love and prayers are sustaining us. Many want to know how we are doing. Honestly, it depends on the minute, and I mean minute, that you ask. At times we are laughing and remembering and just going about normal daily activities. At times we are paralyzed, with a grief so heavy and suffocating that it’s nearly impossible to breathe. The clock ticks and the days roll by, but not fast enough. Our eyes are set on heaven, and that is where we want to be. This life has definitely lost its appeal, although there are still joys in it.
I can’t say this is a new sentiment for us, though, especially for me. The past 10 years have been brutal. The Jacob family has suffered repeated losses … my dad, my mom, my brother, my nephew, and so many extended members. Watching my family members wither away with such debilitating and cruel illnesses has taxed us to our cores. In 2014, within about one month of each other, we buried my brother and my mom, from cancer and Alzheimer’s, respectively. They suffered terribly. During that same time, Jenna was diagnosed with a heart issue and Micah was also facing some intense struggles. I was broken. The only way I could survive was to look up! I’ve always loved the Word and valued my regular morning time with the Lord, studying, journaling, and praying. Along with my daily reading materials, I added books on Heaven. (I strongly recommend any by Randy Alcorn!) My eyes were open to new truths and the wonder of what awaits those who are His! From then on, more than ever we began desiring heaven.
Don’t get me wrong. My desire for heaven did not mean I wanted anything to be cut short on this earth. I loved my life. I loved my family. Those of you who know me well, know that my God is first and my family right behind. I didn’t and don’t need popularity, society, or anything other than my God and my family. If my kids did it, I was there. My husband Steve and I chose to include our kids on all of our travels because, honestly, we didn’t want to miss a thing. I didn’t do lunch or regular nights out with the ladies and Steve didn’t play golf regularly or do weekends with friends, etc. because we didn’t want to. My time was spent mostly at home facilitating life for my family, interceding in prayer for my loved ones, or volunteering for things in which my kids were involved. This is not to say that the way we have done things is the only way or that desiring other things is wrong. Not at all! We just made choices based on our hearts’ desires. We always felt our time with our kids was short just because they grow up so quickly, so we wanted to squeeze every ounce out of our time together. And I am SO glad we did!
We always tell/told our kids, “You’re not promised tomorrow.” In fact, last Christmas, our kids were disappointed that we would not have our Christmas as usual. Everyone on the Johnson side would not be at Steve’s parents’ house for our normal Christmas Eve celebration. We had missed spending Thanksgiving with them too. Marriages had changed the dynamics and cousins had to divide time between relatives, all understandable. Our three children, Christian, Micah, and Jenna were quite sad. I looked at them and said, “Enjoy this time. We are not promised another Christmas together.” Of course, I was thinking they might lose one of Steve’s parents or one of us before the next Christmas. NEVER did I understand, for even one minute, the reality that was buried in my warning. And with every ounce of my being, I want to scream to all of you: “You are not promised tomorrow!”
Funny thing is, I seriously thought Micah was promised tomorrow. I have journals full of scripture promises the Lord has given me concerning my children. I’ve always taught my kids to search the scriptures for every solution to their problems. Find out what God is saying about the problem. He uses His Word to speak to us today, and I have countless testimonies of how He gave me clear answers to common day problems through a particular scripture. It’s fascinating. Anyway, one day my children will inherit my journals, and they will be able to read everything I have recorded that the Lord has given me for them. Since her passing, I have had to try to reconcile what God gave me for Micah. The Word says, “God’s promises are yes and in Him amen.” In other words, His promises are true. If He has given you a promise, He will perform it. If He hasn’t performed it, it’s often just a matter of timing or your misinterpretation of the promise.
The Lord showed me years ago that there was a pattern of seven in Micah’s life. At age 7 and then again at age 14, the Lord mightily moved and answered long-requested prayers. I’m choosing not to share the details. Since then I have been warring in prayer for other challenges she was facing. Every time I prayed, I got the same answer – “Wait!” I was beyond frustrated. I tearfully told Steve on the night of January 28, when Micah was sick and Jenna was facing an excruciating trial of the day, “I can’t take this anymore. I can’t pray any more or read or fast any more. Why won’t He answer me?” And answer He did … again, not the way I expected.
Over the past couple of years, He reminded me of the pattern of seven for Micah. I dismissed it and even argued a bit with Him saying, “Surely, God, you’re not going to wait until she’s 21 to answer these prayers.” As she approached 21, I changed my tune and thought, “Please God, she’s 21, please answer my prayers.” In fact, all throughout 2017, the Lord showed and told me through every way possible that we were in a season of victory and deliverance. So for the first time in a while, I looked forward to a new year. I was so glad to see 2017 end, because it had been brutal. I thought, bring on the victory and deliverance in 2018! Bring on the blessings! And then in literally the blink of an eye, Micah was delivered! At age 21! His promises were true – but not in the way I had expected and even more true – not in the way I would ever have hoped!
The skeptic might ask, “Why? Why would a good God allow this? Why would He take a girl who loves Him with her whole heart, who is serving Him, who is selflessly loving kids and His people, who is a light to this dark world? Doesn’t this world need people with hearts and talents like hers?” But scripture says God is good, so He is. “His ways are righteous,” so they are. Scripture says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Scripture says heaven is our reward. And my heart knows my precious baby girl IS delivered. She IS victorious. She IS where we all want to be. And she would never, not now nor in a million years, choose to come back. She is in full joy with that beautiful smile of hers beaming for eternity. And she is now a part of the “heavenly cloud of witnesses” cheering us on! Yes, I miss her with every part of my being. I still cry a river of tears. But I literally can’t wait to see her again! I’m going to wrap my arms around her so tightly and spend an eternity loving her! By being His child, that is His promise to me!
This morning I put my coffee cup down on a glass coaster, which had a picture of Micah inside it. What’s strange is that I’ve had a set of these coasters for years and never had put pictures in them. A couple of months back, I asked Steve to do that for me. He gladly complied, but then both of my girls expressed how much they disliked the pictures he selected. Actually, I agreed, especially for Micah’s. I thought we have so many beautiful pictures of her. Why did he pick this one? Over the past few weeks, she’s been staring at me through it each morning. Some mornings I just can’t bear to look at it. The picture was taken last summer during our vacation to California at a succulent shop that Jenna loved. Micah was just “doing time” there because it didn’t give her any warm fuzzies. She’d rather be at a pizza shop or on an extreme adventure. But the picture brought back painful memories and incited longings for the future family vacations that we will never again experience.
For some reason though, this morning I picked up the coaster and really looked at it. Then I saw something I had never before seen. To the left of Micah’s sweet face was the word “lent.” It was the part of the word “succulent” that had made it into the picture. Wow, a punch in the gut! At the same time, a sweet reminder from God. I didn’t know whether to wail with grief or scream with joy. I was so conflicted. Micah was indeed “lent” to us, for way too short of a time. But to God, it was His perfect amount of time. She was not ours, but His. Questions raced through my mind. I was looking for assurances that I had stewarded this precious gift that the Lord had graciously lent me for 21 years. Had I missed anything? Left anything undone? With comfort from my God, I was able to feel confident that I had mothered her, loved her, trained her and supported her in every way that I humanly knew!
To every parent out there, please know your children are “lent.” They belong to the Lord. He can call them home at any time. The greatest comfort I have in this period of intense grief is that I have no regrets, and I know where my sweet Micah is. If I didn’t have both of those things, I could not go on. From the time my children were born until today, my prayer has been, “Lord, let them know they are loved by You and by Steve and me. Let them be single-focused. Let them not turn to the right or to the left. Let them love righteousness and hate sin. Let them know why they are here and what You created them to be, with no veering off. Let them stay straight and strong for You.”
I didn’t want kids that had to be great at everything. I wanted them to stay targeted and focused on those things “God prepared in advance for them to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). Many times my kids have been forced to stand alone, to not do the “thing” the crowd was doing. I always told them that if the thing they wanted to do was what the majority was doing, chances are it wasn’t the right thing. I told them Jesus wasn’t popular. The world hated Him. The gospel is not popular. So … don’t try to be popular. Love people, but don’t need their approval. Seek God’s approval above all else. Granted, this mentality won’t put you high on the popularity list, but it will keep you humble before God. I am so thankful that my Micah listened!
She was not always “loved by the world,” but she was always 100% herself and “about her Father’s business.” If you knew Micah, you know she loved so many unusual things. A few of those were archery, knife throwing, skeet shooting, etc. There was just something she loved about hitting the target. Well, she hit hers! Well done baby girl! And if I can speak for my Micah, please do everything now to hit your target and to help your children hit theirs. This life is short, sometimes shorter than we think. But eternity is forever. Don’t miss that mark!
Jan Johnson says every parent should realize that their children belong to the Lord, and can be called home at any time
The Johnson family (from left) Christian, Jan, Jenna, Steve and Micah.