Michaela was home at last. Our crazy, creative, vibrant daughter. Our whirlwind of joy and laughter. "It shouldn't be like this." I sobbed. "She didn't deserve to die. The drunk who ran the lights should be in the coffin not her." We huddled round her as a family. Max, myself, Jolene and Martin.
Jolene raised sad eyes to me. "Mom, do you remember when Michaela made a memory box? That old chest she buried in the garden? She said if she died we were to dig it up."
I shook my head. "Not now, Jolene. Maybe in a few months."
Max straightened his shoulders. "Jolene may have a point, Jess. If she wanted it dug up, it would be for a reason."
Martin stood, grief heavy on his adolescent frame. "I'll do it. I know exactly where she buried it."
We followed him into the back garden, across damp lawns to the giant oak tree. The ground beneath was a carpet of amber and rust, streaked with golden threads of sunshine. I watched as Martin raked the leaves aside and thrust a spade into the soil. The earth was moist and broke away in soft clumps, scattering as he tossed it aside. My heart constricted as I thought of another hole being prepared. A hole where Michaela would soon be laid to rest.
Her box was still there. An old wooden chest she'd found at a junk sale. Martin hauled it out, fiercely protective, tears rolling down dirt-streaked cheeks as he carried it inside. I laid out a mat of newspapers and together we knelt and watched as Max pried the lock open.
Her funeral was held two days later. The church was packed with mourners; hundreds of people who loved her and came to say goodbye. Extra chairs were brought in and still they overflowed, lining the walls, standing in doorways.
"I greet you today in the name of our Lord." Pastor Bob welcomed the crowd. "Will you stand with me as we sing together."
The sweet harmonies of The Lord's my Shepherd flowed across the church and in the midst of grief, a trickle of peace snuggled into my heart. We were doing what Michaela had wanted.
The crowd settled into their seats with a series of coughs and rustles as Bob began to speak. "We're here today to celebrate the life of Michaela Rose Jansen; a young lady who was passionate for God. But before I continue, her father, Max, has something to say to us."
I looked on as Max walked up to the pulpit. His face ashen, his shoulders stooped, but when he spoke, his voice was strong. "I'd like to thank you all for coming today. Just your presence means more than you'll ever know."
I felt the warmth of friends and loved ones as he continued.
"About two years ago, Michaela made a memory box which she buried in our back garden. She told Jolene that if she died, we were to dig it up. We've done just that and found she'd left a message for us here today." His voice broke as he stepped over to a small table and removed a cloth of purest white. "These are some of the things that were in her memory box."
Max sank down next to me as Bob moved over to the table. Displayed were a statue of praying hands, a Bible, a letter and a bowlful of gold glitter-dust. He picked up the praying hands. "I'm going to read you a section from Michaela's letter."
Mom and Dad, please don't forget to pray. If my death was caused by an accident or carelessness, pray for those involved. Pray for their salvation and pray that God helps you to walk in forgiveness.
The church was silent as the words scattered like ice chips. Hard to begin with, but melting into hearts as people thought of the drunken driver, unconscious in ICU.
He replaced the statue and picked up the lamp. "Michaela was sixteen when she wrote these words. Her passion and insight are an example to us all."
God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths. I know the days ahead will be dark. That you will be missing me, but remember to read God's word. Trust in Him and let Him light the darkness.
He put down the Bible and picked up the bowl of gold glitter-dust.
I love glitter and whenever I work with it, it gets all over me. Smudges on my face, in my hair, in my clothes. It clings for days and rubs off on everything and everyone I touch. In fact, it reminds me of God's love. I want you to remember that none of us are islands. Fragments of our lives touch each other every single day. The most insignificant of us can have a great impact on others. We share God's love, simply by our attitudes, our kindness and the way we live.
Bob paused and looked round the church. "The family has taken Michaela's message to heart and we're going to pass round bowls of glitter. I invite you to feel it and touch it. Spread it round as a symbol and reminder of God's love.
Quiet worship music played as baskets passed hand to hand, row by row. All round, people dipped into the glitter; some a finger, some a hand. Some scooped it into tissues and pockets. Others dabbed it onto shirts and longs.
It was only a few days before the stories started coming in. Stories of people talking about the glitter, of questions asked and opportunities to share God's love.
Sometimes the truth is hard to accept, but following Michaela's example, I travelled to the hospital a week later. With her in mind, I held the hand of the man who had killed her and shared with him the story of her life and love for God. I shared the story of her forgiving heart and her final instructions to us. We wept together that night as he asked me to pray for him, as I laid my hands on his and asked God to work a healing miracle in both our lives.
I saw it as I turned to leave. Smudges of gold dust glistening on his hands, reflecting, twinkling, sparkling. Reminding me of God's incredible love towards us all.
Debbie Roome is passionate about writing stories that touch people's lives and point them to God.