Michael Jackson is dead. I heard it first through a CNN email news alert yesterday only minutes after it was confirmed. I read some of the follow-up stories and tributes, reminisced with coworkers, then drove home to a marathon set of his music being played on local radio.
I didn't cry. Despite being an icon of my generation, MJ sufficiently distanced himself from the public, the press, and, well, reality -- so as to not endear himself personally to many in recent years. It was easy to forget he was still around sometimes.
But I remember him. And I certainly remember his influence on me and my peers. I recall one day in junior high, the day after Thriller was released. One of my classmates walked into choir class at Graham Middle School with a shiny new copy of the album (the LP, of course). She had stood in line hours the night before to purchase it, and now placed the record on a table, still gleaming in its plastic wrapper, as we gathered around to gaze upon it in wonder. I still remember the hush over our circle as we admired Michael's crisp white suit and back-lit frame. He amazed us. And when Thriller went multiplatinum and MTV, Pepsi, Disney and others took MJ's image and shaped it into something otherworldly, we thought he was unstoppable.
But time and life proved otherwise. Fast-forward about 20 years. I was sitting at Focus on the Family, listening to Christian apologist Lee Strobel speak in an employee chapel. Lee looked out over the crowd and issued what I think he called the 1:1:1 Challenge. He asked us all to think of one unsaved person to pray for at 1pm each day, for one minute. I love challenges, and being an overachiever who happens to have many non-Christian friends, I decided to do a 5:5:5. I thought of several friends and family immediately. But I wondered about a fifth. I asked God to help me think of the person whom I believed to be most out of his reach -- someone who, if I was being honest, I didn't think would ever come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And just like that, into my mind popped Michael Jackson.
And so every day for weeks, then months, then years, I prayed for the salvation of Michael Jackson. I followed him casually in the news, and it never looked good. He got weirder, wilder and more erratic in his behavior. But I continued to pray. Because that's what God called me to do.
As of today, I have no idea where Michael Jackson stood spiritually at the time of his death. But God knows. And God will decide what He does with Michael's soul. It may sound cliche, but it's devastatingly true: The King of Pop will be called to give an account to the King of Kings.
Friends called me yesterday, and, knowing my prayer connection to MJ, asked me if I'm OK. I am. For my part, I extend my sympathies to Jackson's family, friends and fans. And I'm going to keep praying. Because the power that was Michael Jackson was real, especially to a pop-loving girl in the 80s.
But the power that is Jesus Christ is greater -- great enough to snatch souls from the fires of hell. And it is this power that gives me life. And it gives me hope for that next person I'll be called to pray for. I can't wait to find out who it'll be.