I received a phone call June 27 that Michelle, my wife of 23 years, had suddenly died.
As I write this article, I can’t believe she is gone. I wish I could hug her one last time, eat one more dinner together, or watch her minister to daughter Faith and see her eyes light up.
That will not happen. So the next days, weeks and months will be spent recovering from that loss. It will be done partly through the ministry of my local church as well as friends and family.
Throughout the years, I saw Michelle as my gift from God. When we were first married, I had been a Christian for only a few years out of a very difficult life. Her love and grace helped me understand the love and grace God had for me.
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These concepts were difficult for me to grasp. But through our relationship, I finally was able to understand God’s love. I would not be the same man I am today if it were not for her. So, in this article, I will offer a short tribute to the woman I so deeply loved.
First, Michelle was a model teacher. She began her occupation in 1989 in Houston, Texas, where she shone brightly as a middle school English as a Second Language teacher. The next year, she moved to Illinois where she was a high school Spanish teacher, which was the subject she most loved to teach.
The past 10 years were spent teaching in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. The majority of those years were at Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School, teaching Spanish.
Michelle was devoted to perfecting her craft and becoming the best teacher she could be. Her success was clearly displayed the days right after she died as current and former students posted on Facebook about how she impacted their lives.
Second, Michelle served as a model reconciler. We live in a country that is divided in so many ways. We are divided by religion, ethnicity and income. These divisions cause so much unnecessary strife. Such strife creates the need for people to set examples of how to be reconcilers. This is where she shined brightly.
Michelle had an unwavering commitment to evangelical Christianity. Yet, she also had the same commitment to serve as someone who built relationships with people of other religious faith traditions. Because of my long standing relationship with the Islamic community, she and I often were invited to the Islamic Center of Columbus for dinners and other functions, which we happily attended.
This provided the opportunity for her to build a relationship with Wan, who is a member of that community. Wan left for Malaysia in July, right after Ramadan. She and Michelle had planned to paint pottery at a local store when she got back. Unfortunately, this will not take place.
Michelle’s commitment to racial reconciliation was manifested by her deep love for the Latino community in Columbus. She wanted to find ways to serve that community.
One way she did this was to celebrate their ethnic heritage by having a Day of the Dead celebration. Michelle and her high school Spanish students, with help from other schools in the community, built an annual event that attracted several hundred people every year.
Her commitment to reach out beyond racial lines was conjoined by her commitment to reach beyond economic boundaries. We began our pastoral ministry in the inner city of East Chicago/Gary, and it was not long after that we found out we couldn’t have kids. During this period of our lives, the absence of children actually helped Michelle serve God in a way not possible otherwise.
In ministering to children of the community, Michelle never saw herself as a substitute for their parents, but nonetheless was able to give these children a parental role model. So many of them had lives devastated by the effects of poverty and sin.
Many of the children clearly desired a mother and seemed drawn to Michelle in that capacity. She assumed the role of mother figure and impacted many of them greatly.
Michelle was also a model wife and mother. After 23 years of marriage, my wife lived out the role of wife as well as any woman I know.
My love for her grew over the years, and she truly became my best friend. I loved her more deeply the day she died than I did when we first got married. She knew me better than anyone ever did and still loved me unconditionally. She taught me to love others the same way she loved me.
Michelle was destined to play an important role in our daughter Faith’s life, a role she was tailor-made to play.
Her love for children had always been evident as she fulfilled that role in the church for years, having served many little ones during that time. Faith had received a special gift. Michelle saw motherhood as a woman’s highest calling and, for her, it was an incredible blessing to serve in that capacity. J.R. Miller captures best the picture I see of the woman in my house who served as a mother to Faith.
Miller states: “The woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies. A true mother is one of the holiest secrets of home happiness. God sends many beautiful things to this world, many noble gifts; but no blessing is richer than that which He bestows in a mother who has learned love’s lessons well, and has realized something of the meaning of her sacred calling.”
Every day, Michelle showed love for Faith, who is developmentally disabled, as well as her desire to be a godly mother. Although she was working full time as a teacher, she didn’t let the job get in the way of being the mother God had called her to be. Each morning, she committed herself to get up a little earlier to read the Bible and pray so she could feed Faith before she went to work. This act spoke volumes to me because Michelle would normally rather sleep in and get up as late as she could than get up earlier.
Yet, driven by her love for Faith and the need she felt to connect with her each morning, Michelle was compelled to make this sacrifice. This act of motherhood will have a profound effect on Faith long after Michelle’s death.
Angie Fox once said, “Try not just to become a person of success but rather a person of value.”
Michelle was an example of a person of value because she represented a life well lived. She will be missed by many.
Tim Orr is an adjunct faculty member at IUPUC as well as the author of the book, “We Named Her Faith: How We Became a Gospel-Centered Fa
mily,” available online. Part of the information contained in this article came from that book.