My friend Clare had a vision she was going to die young. Three weeks ago, she went suddenly to be with Jesus.
It was time to face it.
I was standing on the High Street of my former hometown in England, breath freezing in the afternoon sun. I pushed the door and went in.
They’ve turned my Starbucks into a Paperchase. I do not approve. But I’m finding it hard to be the level of bitter that I’d like to be.
I actually like Paperchase.
I didn’t mean to buy anything. I was really just there to say goodbye to the coffee house I used to call my second office. But the next thing I knew I had a purple felt journal in my hand and I was handing over money.
“So purple’s your favorite color,” the girl at the till said, gesturing to my fingernails. Purple.
Since February 4. Before then, I actually wasn’t all that big of a fan.
But sometimes life and almost everything about it can change in a second. A breath. A heartbeat.
Like it did the day my friend Clare passed away suddenly.
And the day a year and a half ago that she told me it was going to happen.
Even now as I write that sentence, my breath catches. Tears well up where I didn’t think I had any more to cry. Pain pulses from the giant knot in my chest all the way to my fingertips.
My friend, Clare. The surfer, lacrosse player, master cupcake baker and sign language aficionado. The friend whose footprints must’ve been permanently etched in my Ikea coffee table. The one I blame for the way I sing “my lamb bhuna” to the tune of “Hallelujah” every time I eat a curry. The one who shifted gears for me and dipped my French fries in ketchup when I tried to drive and eat a “cheeky” McDonald’s at the same time.
For now, still unexplainably. By all counts, unexpectedly.
Except that God told her she was going.
I think I bought that purple journal because I felt compelled to write down her story. It’s the best one I’ve ever heard. Ever lived. And I want to ensure that I never forget the details.
But even now, the words won’t come. Not the way I want them to.
The grief is profound. Her funeral was Saturday. As I staggered with bloodshot eyes through Heathrow Airport early yesterday morning on my way back to America, I felt like the ocean of pain in my heart just had to be bursting through my skin and punching everyone near me in the face. I almost felt like I should start apologizing to strangers.
How do you even explain what this feels like?
But even bigger than that is the question of how do you adequately pen the story of a God who poured out love in an extravagant way on a beautiful, blond, British 20-something girl, turned her world upside down, told her He was taking her home and then followed through?
The awe is even more profound than the grief.
Clare was the picture of health and a sight for sore eyes the day we met for tea in August 2011.
I’d been on a long work trip in another country. I’d missed her. I’d missed scones, too. I was slathering one with jam and cream and she was telling me some ridiculous story as usual, and then suddenly she whipped out the big guns.
“Grace, I have to tell you something. This is going to sound weird. I don’t even really know how to say it or what to do about it. But I’ve had some visions, and I think I’m going to die really young.”
“But I’ve met with Alex and talked about it, and I’ve written down what I’d like for my funeral to be like, and I figure that’s all I can do.”
And that was that.
Forever proactive, she already had a plan and had talked to the vicar. She wasn’t sick. She wasn’t depressed. She wasn’t planning a high-risk trip to Somalia.
She just knew what she had seen.
My scone had stopped in midair. What do you say to that? Laugh it off as ridiculous … and hope it is? Make a career out of keeping her out of the path of buses?
I followed her lead. She had dealt with it, trusted God with it and put it out of mind.
So I did, too.
When Clare and I met in January 2011, I probably would’ve said we were unlikely friends.
That was before I knew that Clare had a penchant for adventure and all things ridiculous even more than I do … or that she loved people with no respect to age, status, disability, color or anything else.
But it didn’t take long to figure both of those things out.
She was only 22 when I met her, but she’d packed more into two decades than most of us dream in a lifetime. She’d traveled the globe, worked a snowboarding season in Canada, performed flamenco in Spain, worked at a camp in the States, gone dogsledding and served as a teacher at a school in Burma. She liked surfing so much that her brother had made her a surfboard for her birthday. When her pond froze, she’d skate on it, and when the sun came out, she’d soak up enough tan that it would last year round.
She’d been chipping away at a list that was driving her life. Sometimes she called it her “bucket list” (things to do before you kick the bucket), and sometimes she called it her list of “things to do before I turn 25.”
I remember thinking that those things weren’t synonymous.
But it turns out they were.
Clare’s funeral was one month shy of her 25th birthday.
She didn’t finish the list, but I honestly don’t think she’d be too bothered about that.
Something along the way had wrecked her list, something unexpected and bigger than death.
The love of a God who knew her and wanted her for Himself.
The way He got her attention is laughable.
“I noticed my mum had become really different, and I asked her what had gotten into her,” Clare would say when she told the story. “She told me she was in love with someone, and I said, ‘Right, who is he, I’m going to go beat him up.’”
Her mum told her it was Jesus.
“I was like, ‘Muuuuuum,’ and I rolled my eyes. But I knew something was really different, and so I put ‘find out more about Christianity’ on the bottom of my bucket list.”
Then she ticked a different item off of her list: Help a third-world country.
She went to Burma to be a teacher.
And while she was there, she met Jesus.
“As soon as God came into my life I felt like I was living life for the first time taking that first breath of fresh air that I had never experienced before,” she wrote in her journal.
Clare saw visions in Burma – brilliant visions of what God’s love for her was like – and it was more real than anything she had ever known.
Nothing about her relationship with Jesus was typical. Not the visions that first told her of His massive love for her, and not the vision that told her she was going home to be with Him sooner than most.
But then again, nothing about Clare was typical.
My friend Gem and I marveled at it last week with Clare’s mum as we stood in Clare’s room in tears, looking at the paintings of her visions hanging on the wall. The light of God. The smile of God. On and on.
Tears ran down our faces.
“Have you ever known anyone who came to God in this way?” Clare’s mum whispered.
All I could do was shake my head no.
I met Clare a few weeks after she got back from meeting Jesus in Burma. She came to our small group, and it was the first time both of us had been there before.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
She said she didn’t know much about the Bible, but she wanted to know everything.
Everything came alive.
“Wow!!!!!! I get to really celebrate Easter this year! I can’t wait!!!!!!”
“Did it really take that long to build the ark?”
“Did Jesus really act that way? I used to think it was all so boring. Wow!!!!! He really loved that woman! He really loves us!”
I’d get texts sometimes before the sun came up in the morning. She’d have already commuted to work and be sitting in her car, reading her Bible and talking to God.
“This passage is SO AWESOME!!!!!!! I just want to understand all of it. What does Paul mean when he says this?”
She wanted to know Jesus as much as she possibly could.
It was infectious.
She knew that He loved her, that He died so that she could be free from death forever. That all she had to do was give her whole life to Him … but why wouldn’t she want to?
For her, it was simple. Jesus gave us everything, and we give Him everything. There was nothing complicated for Clare about that transaction. I remember sitting one day with her in the conservatory at her house and her speaking passionately about the Gospel – the truth that He loved us first, enough to die in our place so that we could love Him back and live with Him forever in heaven.
It broke her heart that sometimes we Christians allow the “normal” things in life to crowd out the overwhelming love and joy God offers. For Clare, it wasn’t figuring out how to balance Jesus with everything else in life. It was how to love Jesus and enjoy Him best in everything.
“I mean, everything we do is supposed to be about that. I know we have to have jobs and stuff, but even that is supposed to be about the Gospel. Loving Him, and sharing that with others.”
I don’t think anyone taught her that. I think it was her natural response to His love.
She wanted to celebrate it, and she wanted everyone to have the same chance to know Him.
So she threw a big party in her backyard with lots of food and music, invited everyone she knew and got baptized in front of everyone in the pond.
The idea that He loved her was all-consuming … just as it should be.
And she loved Him back.
And we love her, too.
We’ve wept. Together. By ourselves. In the bed at night, in the pub, walking down the street. The story I’m telling now is not my story, but our story. Clare loved so many people so well, and that means a lot of broken hearts spread all over the world are raw today.
Right now, there’s still no physical explanation. She’d been inexplicably weak and sick for a couple of months, and suddenly a few weeks ago, while watching TV on the couch, her heart stopped.
She never recovered.
Autopsy reports are still coming, but the bottom line is we may never know a physical reason why she died.
I miss my friend. We miss our friend. And her parents, brother, sister-in-law and boyfriend are hurting in ways too personal and profound to even begin to express.
But as we wept and sang together on Saturday, I threw my trembling hands in the air and praised the God who made her, who called her to lasting life and who allowed me to know her.
People came from all over the globe to England this weekend because of the way Clare loved them and the way they loved her back.
She knew we would come. That’s why she wrote this in her journal in August 2011, after she had the visions that she was going to die young:
Thoughts on a funeral
I want Alex to teach
Everyone to be wearing bright colours. – mainly purple.
I want happy, joyful, celebration music, nothing sad or gloopy.
Please tell everyone this:
God is love. We all need to love one another more than we have ever loved before. Care for one another. Show each other how much they mean to you.
I thank God so much for the people He put in my life and I will thank Him personally when I meet Him. You have all been a part of my journey that has turned me into the person God wanted me to be.
As soon as God came into my life, I felt like I was living life for the first time taking that first breath of fresh air that I had never experienced before.
If there is one thing that you should get out of this funeral today it should be to love. Love with all your heart and soul.
1 John 4:12 – No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.
If you have never experienced God’s love then you are going to want to. Trust me, it’s absolutely AWESOME. It’s almost like you’ll need a new heart afterwards because God has shown you how much He loves you that He has burst your heart as there is so much love to give from God. That’s how God is love.
If you feel thankful for me being a part of your life, then thank God. He made me.
Love always, Clare
We wore purple, just like she wanted. We came casual, as was her style. The church was decked out in purple tulips, purple candles and purple tissue pompoms that friends of hers spent days putting together.
And Alex spoke, just like she wanted. He talked about her life, and he talked about the love she knew and wanted everyone else to know.
“What if Clare is more alive than we realise? And what if the fact that she’s more alive than we realise means we’re more dead than we realise?”
Clare’s whole life was a call to life. To real life. The kind that dives the Great Barrier Reef and rides bikes dozens of miles for charity, but also the kind that takes the time to dig up the things that are most important, figure them out and soak them up.
Things like a relationship with Jesus now, life with Him after death and trading the stuff that doesn’t last for things that last forever.
In the week leading up to her death, Clare was reading the book “Heaven is for Real,” the story of a 3-year-old boy who nearly died on the operating table and woke up telling stories about heaven and the people who are there that it seems he could have only known supernaturally.
It was Clare’s second time to pick up the book, something that made us smile. She wasn’t much for books.
But apparently she just couldn’t quit being excited about heaven, or about the fact that, according to the kid in the book, Jesus’ sash was her favourite colour.
She used to talk about heaven all the time. We’d be sitting around eating prawn crackers and goofing off, and suddenly she’d say, “Can you imagine what it’s going to be like when we get to be with Jesus all the time and everything will be the way it’s supposed to be forever? That’s going to be SO AWESOME.”
Alex prayed this prayer over us on Saturday … the same prayer he prayed in the moments just as Clare left the south of England and saw Jesus for real.
“Lord, thank you that you know and love Clare and that she now sees you face to face. As we picture her in those first few moments entering into your presence, now unblemished by sin, healed from all illness and pain, standing there in royal robes, seeing you on your throne for the first time, and realising in an instant, ‘Wow, it really is this good,’ we just pray that you would come soon to make all things new and reunite us all. Come, Lord Jesus.”
As we were standing in Clare’s bedroom last week looking at the paintings of her visions, I turned around and saw again the giant purple banner that hangs above her windows – a welcome home from some of her past travels:
“Clare is home. Wahoo!”
Clare is home indeed.