‘Thoughts on a funeral.’

My friend Clare had a vision she was going to die young. Three weeks ago, she went suddenly to be with Jesus.

Clare

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.

Right.

It is.

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.

She’s gone.

Suddenly.

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?

You can’t.

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.”

A chill.

“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.

*****

DSC_0024

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.

DSC_0010

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.

With abandon.

clare's baptism-46

*****

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.

Like heaven.

Clare 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.

xxx

78 Comments on “‘Thoughts on a funeral.’

  1. I began reading your blog some two or so years ago…and I believe it was a catalyst for the dreams I have for my life…the way I want life to be. As I reread this post for the first time in over two years, it causes me to rethink my life yet again. Thank you for being so open to God, no matter the cost, no matter the path. Thank you for continuing to remind me of where my eyes and heart should be fixed, and that living a completely overflowing God-filled life is not only possible, but is what we’re called to do. Thank you for continuing to challenge me to hand it all over to him, to give him everything and to give up myself. Even though I’ve been struggling so very deeply to do so, you push me to press on. Even though life has been overwhelmingly hard and seemingly empty, you remind that he is still in the midst of it, and that he is still here with me. He has to be. And I need to be reminded. Thank you.

    • I’m so sorry to hear it’s been so hard and seemed so empty, Mary Beth. He is definitely with you. This life is always going to feel like an ill fit … we’re made for something (and Someone and someplace) so much bigger … but He can fill that emptiness with more and more of Himself all the time. Keep pushing into Him, sister. And drop me an email on the About Me page if you want to keep chatting.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for this post about Clare’s life. I never knew her or you but it’s funny how things work, and how her life has inspired me so much in how I want to live. & SO thankful that Clare is with Him after living so beautifully and influencing more people than she knows.

    • Thanks for the note, Anna. Clare was pretty special, and it’s awesome to hear God’s still using her stories in ways far beyond what we could’ve imagined. I love the way He uses all of our stories that way … yours included …

      Praying for you.

  3. Grace,

    Stumbling upon your post was quite serendipitous. My friend sent me a link to your “I Don’t Wait” post, which was also very necessary for me to read as one of those twenty-something year old girls who is fighting against the current. There was something calling me to read more because, while I do suffer from the girl-angst of finding someone, my father passed away from cancer not even a month ago and unknowingly I needed to read something telling me that it was going to be all right. I often get peeved by the thought that God does not speak to me as easily and directly as He did with Clare, but I have been realizing that HE DOES SPEAK TO ME DIRECTLY AND CLEARLY. He just did -through you. I’ll point out these next three “coincidences” for giggles:

    1) While my dad never told us he had a vision, he knew. He knew before his last surgery that things were going to take a turn for the worst and made arrangements and requests like Clare did. He started singing a song about a month before he passed, it said “I will not be back” in Spanish. It makes sense now.

    2) My father also wanted his funeral to happy [He fought a 10 year battle with his cancer in which he found God and dove right into loving Him like I have never seen anyone love Him before. He asked us to dance and be joyous for his services; I managed to do just that through the strength that only God could give me].

    3) My favorite color is purple too.

    Aside from these “coincidences,” I know God is laughing with my dad upstairs at how foolish I was and am to think He did not speak to me directly like He does to others. I rarely reply to posts on the internet but this is absolutely out of my control. I want to thank you because you have taken me out of a very dark hole that I put myself in before my father passed. A hole that I have not let anyone know about because I dug it so deep inside no one could see if they tried. I would most definitely like to thank Clare because she sounds like the person I want and need to be. I admire you and your words because with eloquence, you have woven a path to God for quite possibly too many to count. I cannot remember what else I WANTED to say so I’ll assume I said what I NEEDED to say.

    Thank you so very much,

    C.P. Rizo

    P.S. Have you heard “Dancing in the Sky” by Dani and Lizzy? Great song.

  4. My 21 year old cousin recently collapsed and passed away from unknown causes just weeks into a 7 month missions trip in South East Asia. And 11 days from his birthday. As I grapple with this, I kept thinking about this post that I had read months ago. He is home with the GOD he served with his entire being.

    • Kelly, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. Praying that the Father will give you comfort … it’s such a hard road. Asking that He will show you more of Himself and His goodness as you walk forward.

  5. Thank you for writing about your friend. I don’t know you or her but when you wrote about her here, I found her life very inspiring. She sounds beautiful and I’m sure she is beaming with joy in heaven right now :)

  6. I couldn’t stop the tears and the heaving sobs from escaping while reading about Clare.

    I can only pray that someday I will be infected by the same child-like love and trust that she possessed. She was such a beautiful soul—thank you for keeping her testimony alive.

    xx

  7. Dear Grace,

    We’ve never met. I’m one of your brothers in Christ that happened upon your blog. It’s my pleasure to make your online acquaintance.

    As I read a single funeral request written by Clare; “Show each other how much they mean to you.” her words impacted me so profoundly that I immediately felt compelled to “unpack” the raw power of her words. With one single sentence, Clare eloquently and succinctly revealed her awareness of Christ’s two greatest commands; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    You wonderfully described Clare’s essence, as well as your love for her. The beautiful pictures you placed within your tribute wonderfully compliment your heartfelt sentiments.

    This sentence written by Clare moved me: “Show each other how much they mean to you.”

    “Show” – A verb requiring personal, first person action. This can’t be delegated.
    “each” – All. 100%. No exclusions. No qualifiers. Every single person.
    “other” – Those external to self. Neighbors, friends, enemies, strangers, family, et al.
    “how” – With unearned Grace, disconnected from any acts, sins, deeds or merit.
    “much” – A qualifier reflective of God’s Love; an amount beyond words & thoughts.
    “they” – Flawed, broken humans. Our brothers and sisters created by God and forgiven by Christ, regardless of their acceptance or understanding of this truth.
    “mean” – Root of “meaning”; one’s true significance, purpose, importance.
    “to you.” – Allow God’s light to shine through you. Reflect Him in your words, deeds and acts. Permit His mercy, love, compassion and grace to flow without judgement.

    With one funeral request, written at the peak of her health and vitality, Clare demonstrated she had internalized the full essence of Christ’s message. Every single word within a single sentence written by Clare jumped off your blog and stirred me to ponder, analyze, embrace her words. And so now I’m communicating how she, and you, have touched me in Atlanta, Georgia.

    Thank you for blessing me with the story of Clare’s life, and your heart.

    In Christ,

    Rob

  8. Tonight I was looking for something. I didn’t really know where I would find it but I knew it was something about Jesus. I’d been head over heels in love with my Savior since 2011, the summer before my freshman year of high school, but lately I’ve been feeling distant. One of my friends had posted an entry of yours (a different one) on facebook, and I thought hey, she seems cool, maybe I’ll read some more of hers. I was looking for some inspiration, something to lead me back to Jesus. And boy oh boy did I find it. I was barely half way through reading this when the tears started to come. I don’t know quite what it was, but I think saw a lot of Clare in me; the passion she had about Jesus, the pure joy in him, the adventurer’s spirit, and the longing to teach others about what I knew. Or at least, she reminded me of who I used to be. I had lost her, and I definitely missed that version of me. And after reading this, I feel like I knew her, even though I’d never heard her name until about 15 minutes ago. I guess I’m telling you all this because though I know it must be heartbreaking to let her go, Jesus is still working through her (and definitely you, too!). I actually had no clue where I was going when I started to write this, except for I felt called to tell you everything. I lost my way for a while, but now I am heading towards Jesus, the one that I have loved with all my heart since that July day a few years back, keeping in mind the joy that He will bring me, and the fire that He has lit inside all those who fully commit themselves to the Lord.

    • Your reply brought tears to my eyes, Kenzie. I was thinking very similar things as I read about Clare, but have been so numb, that the tears didn’t come until I read your post. Maybe you helped me not feel so alone… Disconnected. I am grieving the very recent loss of my cousin and the fact that the only time in my thirty years of following Christ that I ever prayed with her was only a month before she died… <

  9. Reblogged this on brycemiddleton and commented:
    We need so many more people in our World living their lives as Clare did! It would make a huge difference in our lives and God’s love would be irresistible!

  10. Grace, I read this post as my friend posted it on FB. Thank you for writing. A wonderful testimony to how personal God is with each of us. It helped to fill in some blanks to her sudden passing. Clare taught in my daughters’ school in Myanmar. May His love wash over you, again and again, and heal the aching in your heart.

    • Thank you so much, Ann. Grateful for your note, and I’m grateful for your daughter’s school! What amazing things God is doing there … and did in Clare there … things we won’t know the full story of until we get to be with Him one day. I’m in awe.

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