Nicole Avant: Every day, I pray for divine order. I used to have a very bad habit of just being attached to everything, “Okay, God, this is going to go like this and I’ve put my intentions out.” And God’s like, “Yeah you can still put your intentions out. All that’s great. You should have them. You should do that. You should have a plan, but you have to be resolved to let me figure out the how.” You may not get exactly what your intention was. It’s either going to be all of it, some of it, or none of it, but if you’re asking for a divine order, you’ll be in the right place.
Give Up Your Despair To God: Nicole Avant & Gary Miracle – Episode #378
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. In the bleak aftermath of unspeakable tragedy, it is faith that dawns as our beacon of survival and healing. Faith, by its very nature, is about trust, hope, and a belief that God is in control. It allows us to seek solace and strength in something greater than ourselves, and it provides a comforting balm for our wounded hearts. Both of our guests this week faced heartbreaking circumstances that could have shaken their faith beyond repair, but each of them chose to wait and see what God would do in their lives as they healed from their scars and faced a new way of living through their pain.
Nicole Avant is an author and film producer who grew up around the music business. Her father, Clarence Avant, was known as the Godfather of Black Music, and as an executive in the music business, he furthered the careers of jazz legends like Sarah Vaughn and Jimmy Smith, and was a sought after mentor for artists like Jamie Foxx, David Geffen, Whitney Houston, and others. Nicole’s family life was steeped in music and in faith. It was the faith she would cling to when tragedy struck twice—first, the devastating loss of her mother to the hands of a gunman who invaded their home, and then, the loss of her father shortly after.
Nicole Avant: I am Nicole Avant and I am an author and film producer, I’m a former U.S. diplomat, and I am a philanthropist because I love sharing my blessings with other people any way that I can.
Nicole’s Father and a Legacy of Music
When I was growing up, I listened to country music, I listened to R&B, I listened to rock and roll, I listened to classical. Music is music. Music is everything to me. It strengthens my soul. It makes me think about other people. I mean, even more than reading and writing for me, which I love, but music… if I need to understand myself, I always go to a song.
“If I need to understand myself, I always go to a song.” – Nicole Avant
There’s this story where my father, when he signed Bill Withers, everyone assumed that it was the song “Lean On Me,” because my dad loved it. And he said, “This is an anthem.” And Bill Withers, really, he was a man of faith, and he did go to my father and say, “I guess, you’ll be the last one, because everybody turned me down.”
“Well, let me listen to it first before you take yourself out of this office.” And he played “Lean on Me,” which my father loved. He said, “Well, I don’t know what other people hear, but I hear an anthem. Let me hear another song.” Then he played “Ain’t No Sunshine.” “What is everybody missing here?”
Then the best part was my father said he played the third song, which was “Grandma’s Hand,” and it made my father cry. My father, remember, he grew up in 1931 in the segregated south, you know, picking cotton, picking tobacco. And he remembered his grandmother used to put whatever ointment that they could find, any remedy, on his hand because they were hurting all the time. So when my father heard “Grandma’s Hand”, he said, “I’m signing you.”
Bill Withers had written all of those songs, and when no one said yes to him, it’s not as if he threw away the songs, he kept them. And it wasn’t the right time. He was waiting on God to align him in a divine way of—you have to be at the right time, at the right place. I always go back to the music because you don’t feel alone. You never feel alone.
“I always go back to the music because you don’t feel alone. You never feel alone.” – Nicole Avant
The Faith of Nicole’s Mother
My mom was a woman of faith, but she kept it very simple for me. Every single night I did my prayer, the now I lay me down to sleep prayer. She said, you know, “I gave you that first without giving you a bunch of scripture, because I wanted you to have a relationship first so that you would feel safe and that you would feel—God forbid anything happens, or God forbid I don’t wake up. Even though you’re young, you create a connection.” It created a connection of, Oh, there is somebody in charge, right? There’s somebody bigger than me. And then, my first prayer, or scripture I should say, the first one that my mom made me memorize was Philippians 1:11, “May you always be doing those good, kind things which show that you are a child of God, for this will bring much praise and glory to the Lord.” And that was kind of my mantra.
“My first prayer, or scripture I should say, the first one that my mom made me memorize was Philippians 1:11, ‘May you always be doing those good, kind things which show that you are a child of God, for this will bring much praise and glory to the Lord.’ And that was kind of my mantra.” – Nicole Avant
What I love so much about my mom is that she was always moving forward with positivity. She used to say to me, “Nicole, you have to have something to look forward to. Believe in tomorrow. Have something to look forward to. And anyone can be a blessing. You don’t have to be wealthy to be a blessing. You don’t have to be famous to do good. Do good, be good.”
An Unexpected Tragedy and a Mother’s Last Words
A couple of days after Thanksgiving, this text that I’m reading from my mom, we were talking about the sweet potato pie that my dad had taken home by accident from my house on Thanksgiving, and my mom was just so determined to get me this sweet potato pie.
She said, “Nicole, your sweet potato pie is waiting for you.” I originally started writing something back, and it had a little sarcasm to it, and I thought it was a little funny. I was like, “Oh, Mom, please, you and this sweet potato pie.” And I swear to you, I just felt my intuition strong and my back got weird. And the Holy Spirit said, “Don’t send that.”
Then I sent my words and I said, “Okay, I’ll think about it and thank you, and I called you earlier.” And I just completely changed my tone, and I sent her the text. She wrote me back and go figure, her last words to me were, “Think you’ll be happy.” And six hours later, I got a call to get to Cedars-Sinai, and, “Your mom’s been shot.” Strangely enough, I froze.
And then after I did, I thought, Okay, my mom always told me, haste makes waste. So I just took some deep breaths and then I just—my mantra was, I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. I said that getting dressed, and getting the dog food out, I got in the car, I drove calmly, and then I just started talking to my mom in the car. I said, “Mom, I don’t know what’s going on and I’m going to show up for you, and hopefully it’s not a bad wound.” I don’t know—because I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know about an intruder. I didn’t know anything. I saw a light flicker right when I was making a right to the hospital, and I thought, Okay, I’m going to pray for divine order. I’m praying that God is working through everybody that’s touching you, that everybody that’s working on you during surgery. I pray that, you know, you have angels around you.
And then once I got to the hospital, we waited and waited. And then, you know, you have that hope. Oh, well, you know, they’re taking a while, they’re not saying anything, so this must be good. And, you know, Wait until I talk to my mom. And then they came out and I knew as soon as I saw the face on the person who said, “I’m going to bring you into the back room.”
They gave us the news and right there, I remember hearing my brother wail, I mean wail, like just like a pierced animal. My father fell onto me like he was sitting next to me, like, slumped over, but then my husband says that I shot up like an arrow, just sat up straight. I became my mom.
Mom was a doer. Okay, just do the next right thing, do what needs to be done. And that’s what I did. So I looked at my father and I said, “Listen, you’re going to get in the car with Ted, because I drove separately.” I said, “Dad, you’re going to get in the car with Ted. You’re going to come to our house. Okay?” I go, “And then I’m here with you.” Just remember, he was two months shy of ninety-one. “Daddy, you just gotta trust me here. I’m not going to leave you alone. We’re going to get through this, and I don’t know how, but we are. And you’re coming home with me.” And he never left.
Faith to Move Through the Pain and to Forgive
My faith was everything to me during this experience. It does not take the pain away, but it does help you move through the pain. I was taking it day by day, and then it became, “Oh, Lord, minute by minute, minute by minute, give me today.” And I had to figure out some days I needed naps more than strength. Some days I needed strength more than wisdom. I would wake up and say, “Give me what I need for today.” Then it would become, “Give me what I need for the hour.”
“My faith was everything to me during this experience. It does not take the pain away, but it does help you move through the pain. I was taking it day by day, and then it became, ‘Oh, Lord, minute by minute, minute by minute, give me today.’” – Nicole Avant
This is something that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how you mend. I don’t really know how this goes on this level, but I’ll just go with it. And you know what? I’m in repair. I might be in repair for the rest of my life. There’s a scar, and there’s a wound, and it’ll scar like everything else and it’ll heal, and wounds do heal.
Another thing that took me years to learn, but I’m grateful that I learned it before this, is forgiveness really has nothing to do with condonement. So, for example, for this person who took my mother’s life, the first words out of my mouth were, “God, please do not let me hate this man. I don’t want this poison. Don’t let me hate this man. Don’t let me hate this man. I forgive him.” I pray for justice for Jackie. I kept saying, “Please, justice for my mom.” People say, “Oh, don’t you believe in redemption?” Sure, sometimes redemption is behind bars.
“Another thing that took me years to learn, but I’m grateful that I learned it before this [tragedy], is forgiveness really has nothing to do with condonement.” – Nicole Avant
I kept telling my father the same thing because he was struggling. And when I brought up forgiveness, he said “Forgiveness?” “Daddy, not condone the behavior. It’s not giving him a pass. Give up your despair and give up your disappointment and frustration and anger and sadness. Give it to God.”
Nicole’s Last Days with Her Faith, and Memories of her Mother
I have Jesus Calling out in the kitchen all the time. I had found it on Amazon, I was buying another book that came up, as you know Oh, if you like this, let us recommend this. So I thought, These are great. So I bought like ten of them and gave some of them out, and I had one on the kitchen counter where my dad was. And he read some days and then he’d say, “What does this all mean? This is good, though.” But he’d get to the Scripture part and I go, “Isn’t it great that it’s every day? And then they’re going back to Scripture where it comes from?” He said, “Okay, okay.” And then his last few days, I think maybe the last three days, I just started reading it to him in his bed because he couldn’t move at this point. And I read it to him and it felt great because I said, “Well, see, you skipped a lot of days, so I’m going to repeat them for you.” And it felt really great, to be honest with you. Again, words on a page also, just like music, you know that you’re not alone.
The best lesson my mom gave me growing up was living with an eternal mindset. She taught me, “Listen, life on earth is the temporary part. You’re a visitor here. Many people think it’s the opposite. No, you’re coming from home, you come down here, you learn lessons, you run your race, you do your thing, and then you get to go back home. But this is temporary.” And she gave me that.
“The best lesson my mom gave me growing up was living with an eternal mindset. She taught me, ‘Listen, life on earth is the temporary part. You’re a visitor here. Many people think it’s the opposite. No, you’re coming from home, you come down here, you learn lessons, you run your race, you do your thing, and then you get to go back home. But this is temporary.’ And she gave me that.” – Nicole Avant
She always used to remind me, “Nicole, we’re the only animals that God made with an imagination. So take your imagination and create something great. It’s your responsibility. Create something great. Bring peace into your life. Everything is your choice.”
You know, she would always say, “Nicole, it sounds cliche, but go where you’re celebrated. Go with the flow. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with, you know—it’s not always easy, but you can always change your mind.” What a beautiful thing that you could change your thinking and you could use your imagination. And if you use it wisely and ask for help from the divine, you’re going to be okay.
“What a beautiful thing that you could change your thinking and you could use your imagination. And if you use it wisely and ask for help from the divine, you’re going to be okay.” – Nicole Avant
Narrator: Read more about Nicole’s story in her new book Think You’ll Be Happy: Moving Through Grief with Grit, Grace, and Gratitude, which you can find at your favorite book retailer.
Stay tuned to Gary Miracle’s story after a brief message.
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Our next guest’s life eventually caught up to his name. Author and speaker Gary Miracle unexpectedly found himself on his deathbed in the emergency room, with a 1.7% chance to survive the night. A series of small miracles lined up, and though he ultimately lost all four limbs, Gary’s life was spared, inspiring MercyMe’s hit song, “Say I Won’t.”
Gary Miracle: My name is Gary Miracle. I’m so honored to be able to have a story that Christ has given me that I can take to the masses as much as I can, just in hopes that my story won’t go in vain and that I can encourage people and point people to Christ as much as I can.
I would say that for the first thirty-nine years of my life, I lived, I think what most people would really call kind of the all-American dream. I grew up in a family and we were a fierce family foursome. I became a Christian when I was eleven years old. I grew up playing sports. I was a football player, soccer player, basketball player, I ran track, I ran cross-country. I did all of that in middle school and in high school. In 2009, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where I met my first wife, and we had three beautiful boys. We had a fourth boy who unfortunately didn’t make it. We lost him at twenty-eight weeks.
I was able to do a two-year seminary program at the church that I was attending. And I was on a foreign mission trip in Columbia, South America, where I met this beautiful thirteen year old girl, and I came home from that trip and instantly started the adoption process. At fifteen years old, I brought my daughter home from Columbia, South America, and she is with me now. And that is kind of everything in a nutshell that led up to 2019, where a lot changed in my life.
Gary’s Life Hangs in the Balance
It was December 26th, right at the end of the year, I started feeling sick. So I ended up taking myself to the emergency room the day after Christmas in 2019, and they asked me a series of questions and basically chalked me up to I had the flu, and they gave me a Tamiflu shot and a steroid shot and they sent me home and they gave me the whole, Hey, get some rest, drink lots of water, and if you’re not better in ten days, come back and see us again.
Well, a couple days went by and I just started feeling worse and worse and worse. And this leads me to December 31st. At this point, this is my fourth trip back to the emergency room. And they looked at me when I arrived and they instantly admitted me.
They looked at me and they looked at my family and they instantly said, “We’re kind of at the end of our rope here. We don’t know what to do at this point,” and they told my family that they needed to call the rest of my family and my friends to come in and say goodbye to me because they didn’t think that I was going to make it through the night.
So at this time, I was falling into septic shock and multisystem organ failure. So I was put into an induced coma. One of my family members was actually an emergency room doctor at another hospital nearby. And as she was driving to where I was, she felt like she heard from the Lord, and she felt like the Lord told her that I needed to be on something called the ECMO machine. She was able to communicate and speak the language that the nurses and the doctors there were talking, and they let her know that they didn’t have an ECMO machine in that hospital.
My family started researching like crazy. And at that time in 2019, there were only seven hospitals in the entire state of Florida that had this thing called the ECMO machine. One of them happened to be in Orlando, Florida, which is about an hour away from where I was. So they initiated that transfer. And around 11:00 PM on New Year’s Eve of 2019, literally one hour before everyone here on the East Coast was about to scream and cheer and celebrate happy new year, I was being put into a helicopter to be life-flighted from one hospital to another.
They instantly got me out of the helicopter, rushed me into their ICU unit, hooked me up to their machines, and come to find out I was hooked up to about forty-six different machines when they put me into the ICU unit. And then once I was there, once I was settled, once I was hooked up, they too looked at me, looked at my family, and said, “What is he doing here? We don’t know what to do with this guy.”
And once again, my family had the same line: “We’re here because we feel like he needs to be on an ECMO machine.” They said, “Well, we have that here, but he’s not a candidate for the ECMO machine.” And yet again, here we are at a different hospital, same conversation, same feelings, instantly feeling like, Well, why did we just go through all of this just for him to die here? Leaving my family with all of these massive hospital bills and medical bills and everything that was going to be incurred through this, it was very confusing. They gave my family the whole, “But we will make him as comfortable as possible.” Which is, you know, one of those sentences that nobody ever really wants to hear.
And at 7:00 AM AM the day shift was clocking in, the night shift is clocking out. And they get to my bed at 7:18 AM on January 1st, 2020. And while they’re making their rounds at the foot of my bed, the nightshift nurses and doctors were telling the day shift who I was, what was going on, and in unison, all forty-six machines that I was hooked up to gave the long solid beep. I laid there and I died at 7:18 AM on January 1st, 2020.
My whole body instantly turned blue within about thirty seconds. All the other nurses and doctors came rushing in. This little seventy pound soaking wet nurse jumps up on top of me and just starting King-Konging my chest to just try to bring anything back that they could. And they were about to try to stop their efforts in their resuscitation of my life when one of the nurses noticed one of the machines had something going on. And at 7:29 AM, the doctors found a slight pulse in my body. They went out to my family and let them know that for eleven minutes I was laying on that hospital bed completely lifeless.
By the grace of God, they never turned any machines off, and the cardiac surgeon who was on call at that moment looked at my family and she said, “I’m at the end of my ropes, but I’m going to throw up a hail mary and put him on something called the ECMO machine.” And everything started making sense, and we just knew in that moment that that’s when Christ showed up.
Miracle Upon Miracles
Most of the people are on the ECMO machine for about twenty-four hours, like forty-eight at most if there are any complications. Well I happened to be in a coma from January 1st to January 10th, so for ten days I was on the ECMO machine in this coma, which means for ten days, all of the blood and all of the oxygen and all of the circulation from my extremities was removed to be pumped into my core to keep my organs running strong. So at that time, my arms and legs just started dying on me because they weren’t receiving anything for so long.
My arms and my legs, they turned pitch black and they were hard as a rock. I was necrotic. I was mummified. They didn’t know if I was ever going to wake up from this coma. If I did wake up from it, was I going to be brain damaged?
Nobody really knew what was going to happen, but what they did know is my family had to make a decision on my behalf while I was in my coma. Do I lose my life or do I lose my limbs, because my body would not be able to take another round of septic shock if infection started setting in on the arms and legs that were necrotic and mummified. So they thought their only shot to save my life at that time was to cut off my arms and my legs, all four extremities. So my family decided that—they looked back at the doctors and they said, “We’ll take him back however you can give him to us.”
On January 10th, I was laying on the hospital bed and I opened my eyes for the very first time. And I will never, ever, ever forget it. At that time, I wasn’t able to speak. I’m learning the gravity of my situation, but I’m not able to talk. I’m not able to ask questions. I can’t do anything, and I felt very trapped. So I started learning the gravity and I started learning that they were having to cut off both of my arms and both of my legs. And my goodness gracious, like, what information to receive, right?
After Tragic Circumstances, Can We Still Believe God is Good?
But I just had this incredible peace wash over me from the very first seconds. I’d lived my whole life telling people that God is good and preaching to people that God is good and trying to convince other people that God is good. So how dare I, now that something traumatic was happening to me in my life, live my life like He’s not good? So I want to spend my whole life telling people that God is good and begging people to believe that God is good and convincing people of that, and then when something traumatic happens to me, still living my life like He is really, really good.
“I want to spend my whole life telling people that God is good and begging people to believe that God is good and convincing people of that, and then when something traumatic happens to me, still living my life like He is really, really good.” – Gary Miracle
What am I going to do with my life when all of this is said and done? Am I going to sit on my couch and watch TV and get addicted to pain pills and watch life go by and watch my kids grow up without me being present? Or am I going to step over that line and say, “Absolutely not. I want to fight for life. I want to learn what it means to live and not just be alive.”
“I want to fight for life. I want to learn what it means to live and not just be alive.” – Gary Miracle
So I started occupational therapy and physical therapy, and I started working out everyday and desensitizing my limbs and getting them stronger and getting myself to a place where I could be back to a fraction of the life that I had. It looked very, very different, but it was not less at all. You know, I’m still here and I’m still alive and I’m still present, and now I get to gladly say that I am in prosthetic legs and God’s grace has been so sufficient and so good for me through this season.
“I’m still here and I’m still alive and I’m still present, and now I get to gladly say that I am in prosthetic legs and God’s grace has been so sufficient and so good for me through this season.” – Gary Miracle
How God Works Out Our Story
One of the biggest pieces of change in my life at that time was my wife at that time who spent that season with me—as I became more independent, she decided to take a different path in life. So something else that I lost, but blessed be the name of the Lord, because I met this beautiful woman. Her name is Jenna, and she is my wife, and she has been called to this.
You know, when you’re in that valley and you feel so unlovable and you feel like nobody will ever choose you because of the way you look… because at the end of the day, society tells us what we should look like and how we should act and what we should be like and how we should talk. And I didn’t fit any of those molds anymore, and there was no way that I ever could anymore. You know, I am sitting here with four stumps of my extremities and, God, if you’re going to show up, you’re going to have to just bring this incredibly calm woman into my life, and enter Jenna.
So I have my three boys and my daughter from Columbia and Jenna has three kids as well, and they all go to the same school. And it’s almost as if Christ was just like, “Here is your perfect scenario on a silver platter for you, Gary. You have this amazing woman who is choosing you, who’s willing to do life with you, and here are her children who are built-in best friends with your children instantly in this situation.” And it has been blessing after blessing after blessing.
I get to say that there were only setbacks in my life because I thought they were setbacks in that moment, but looking back, they weren’t setbacks at all. Christ was still working out my story and I just wanted it to be a lot faster and happen sooner than He wanted it to. So I had what I call setbacks, but Christ calls them next steps.
“I get to say that there were only setbacks in my life because I thought they were setbacks in that moment, but looking back, they weren’t setbacks at all. Christ was still working out my story and I just wanted it to be a lot faster and happen sooner than He wanted it to. So I had what I call setbacks, but Christ calls them next steps.“ – Gary Miracle
Visible and Invisible Struggles
One thing I’ve learned at the end of the day, is that every single one of us who is alive right now is struggling with something. The only difference between me and you right now is that my struggles are visible.
What I’ve learned is that in today’s day and age, anxiety is a very real thing. Depression is a very real thing—eating disorders, finances, marriages, pornography—I could go on and on and on with my list of invisible struggles that we all kind of go through. And what I’ve learned is that invisible struggles 100% can kill us from the inside out, way more than septic shock.
But I think a lot or Christians or just people in general today, our anthem is, you know, It’s fine. But at the end of the day, like, if we took our mask off and we really exposed ourselves and all of our glory, like, it’s not fine. So why don’t we just talk about those things? Be vulnerable enough to tell just one person who you really are, because what I’ve learned right now in my life is through the sharing of my struggles, both visible and invisible, I’ve never been more loved in my entire life when I thought I would be judged for all of that. I’ve never felt more loved by everybody, by my village, by my community, by people just rallying around me, asking to link arms with me, to do life with me, and other people raising their hands.
“Be vulnerable enough to tell just one person who you really are, because what I’ve learned right now in my life is through the sharing of my struggles, both visible and invisible, I’ve never been more loved in my entire life when I thought I would be judged for all of that.” – Gary Miracle
I want to spend one second reading one of the passages from Jesus Listens, May 28th, and it says:
Help me remember that challenging circumstances come and go, but You are continually with me. The constancy of Your Presence is a glorious treasure! It comforts me to know that You are writing the storyline of my life—through good times and hard times. You can see the big picture: from before my birth to beyond the grave.
And You know exactly what I will be like when heaven becomes my forever-home. Moreover, You’re constantly at work in me— changing me into the person You designed me to be. Your Word assures me that I am royalty in Your kingdom.
In Your refreshing Name,
I believe that there is going to be a day that I am going to be running down the streets of gold with my brand new legs, with my son Ellis, side by side, and I can’t wait to meet him and I can’t wait to be there. And I can’t wait to meet all of you all there as well. So join me in chasing Jesus.
“I believe that there is going to be a day that I am going to be running down the streets of gold with my brand new legs, with my son Ellis, side by side, and I can’t wait to meet him and I can’t wait to be there. And I can’t wait to meet all of you all there as well. So join me in chasing Jesus.” – Gary Miracle
If you’d like to hear more stories about how we can survive in the aftermath of tragedy, check out our interview with the Beathard family.
Next week: Rachael Lampa
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from Christian singer/songwriter and record producer Rachael Lampa. A star in Christian music when she was barely sixteen, Rachael’s life began to be defined by her success in music. She shares how she got back to finding her true self in the light of God’s love.
Rachael Lampa: Especially as a young person in the spotlight, you base your identity on that and your worth on that, and I needed to reclaim that my worth was already locked in and set when I met the Lord. And so just a lot of kind of returning to that original truth and the original moment where I learned that God loves me.