Often it seems impossible to understand God’s plan in the midst of tragedy. Julie knows that struggle all too well, as her life was shattered in the blink of an eye.
October 19, 1997, was a Sunday just like any other for this North Carolina family. Julie, her husband Andy, and their eight-year-old son Landon were all smiles in their black Pontiac as they rode home after church.
But in an instant, that day became the most unforgettable, most horrific experience of their lives. In the most peculiar of tragedies, their car was t-boned by an off-duty ambulance. The collision came with such force that it took the life of Julie’s husband, left her son in a coma with fatal brain injuries, and caused her serious injuries as the sole survivor.
On three separate occasions, Landon fell in and out of consciousness as doctors fought to save his life here on earth. Little did they know that he was visiting Heaven each time his heart stopped, encountering Jesus and meeting loved ones who had passed away.
Not until weeks later did Landon show signs of permanently coming out of his coma. Julie recalls the scene well: “The first sign he was waking from his coma came when he popped his knuckles! His most annoying habit became my surprising answer to prayer.”
However, the doctors were still warning Julie of very troubling worse-case scenarios.
Landon shares how real these visits to Heaven were. “I was taken to Heaven three times, and each time I saw a different loved one,” he recalls. “The first visit to Heaven, I saw my dad, who had died just moments earlier. I could tell he was at peace with Jesus, so I wasn’t sad. Since that moment, I still feel my dad with me everywhere I go, especially doing what we both loved – playing baseball.”
“The second time I died, I saw my mom’s miscarried children in Heaven. I had never even known about her miscarriages, but somehow I recognized that these were my siblings. In Heaven you naturally know things without being told.”
And on his third trip, Landon met Jesus Himself and was given a new mission in life. “Jesus told me, ‘You have to go back to earth and tell others about Me.” Soon after hearing these words, Landon found himself back in the hospital, where Julie was waiting at his bedside.
Two Roads to Recovery
As wonderful as Landon’s heavenly experiences were, he and his mom both faced long and difficult roads to recovery.
For Landon, even some of the simplest tasks were overwhelming. His injuries had made his appearance unrecognizable, necessitating facial reconstructive surgery. Julie shares, “The only thing the surgeon had to glean from in recovering Landon’s face was his elementary school photo.”
This was just the beginning of countless surgeries Landon would have to endure. But there was one thing that helped divert his attention from the painful operations: remembering his visits to Heaven.
Landon yearned to be back in Heaven with Jesus, and he was puzzled at why he couldn’t have stayed there. But as his body grew stronger, so did his strength in Christ. He began to boldly share his story of Heaven with anyone who would listen.
Julie’s struggles were much different. In addition to the physical pain of her broken ribs and multiple fractures, her emotional pain was far worse. She found herself guilt-ridden for having survived the car accident that killed her husband. She couldn’t help but ask God agonizing questions like, “Why didn’t You send Your angels to protect us?”
For several years, Julie felt no peace, no closure, and no comfort in anything but watching Landon grow and share his stories of Heaven. Knowing that her husband was rejoicing with Jesus in Heaven was the one thing that gave her permission to move on.
Healed Through Helping Others
Years later, Julie remarried a supportive man and expanded their family with another son. She then discovered GriefShare, a program that brings hope and healing to those grieving the loss of a loved one. For Julie and Landon, it was exactly what they needed.
In each GriefShare session, participants share their tragic stories, listen to the stories of others, and celebrate the lives of their late loved ones. In the final session, attendees light lanterns and release them into the sky, symbolizing the release of grief while honoring the lives of the ones they lost.
Her experiences with GriefShare gave Julie an ever-increasing passion to help others who are going through the grief process. She became a GriefShare facilitator, and Landon often comes and shares his story on the last night of the group. Julie also wrote a book, “Faith Has Its Reasons,” which details her story in hopes of encouraging others.
Although their lives today are nothing like they would have expected, Julie and Landon have discovered a newfound purpose in sharing their story. In the aftermath of all their pain and struggles, God is mightily using them to fulfill His promise “to comfort all who mourn, and provide…them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:2-3 NIV). He’s revealing Himself as the God who truly can work all things – even the worst tragedies – for our good (Romans 8:28).
If you are experiencing grief today, you can find a GriefShare group in your area by visiting griefshare.org.
We also invite you to contact the prayer ministers in our International Prayer Center to pray for you today.
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