Whenever someone asks me what heaven means to me, my first answer is always “hope.” In his book, Heaven: God’s Highest Hope, Max Lucado describes it so beautifully, as did our pastors in their sermons last Sunday. A beautiful scene — the end of our earthly journey and beginning of our eternal life — a moment that we do not want to miss. The moment that God, our creator speaks our name, fulfilling his promise to us from Ephesians 4:4, which says, “There is one body and one spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” I do not think that our finite minds can truly comprehend what our infinite Father has planned for us. Even in our wildest dreams, we cannot dream that big.
As a child, I knew the love of our heavenly father and the name of Jesus before I was old enough to speak it on my own or understand what it would mean in my life. My parents were both believers who raised us in a home filled with God and taught us all about it. We attended church faithfully as a family, and our lives were centered on loving and serving the Lord. I grew up knowing that all of this meant something to me, and I knew I could rely on and trust in the Lord. I definitely believed that Jesus was my savior, and I definitely believed in heaven. But, if I am being honest, I still had a real fear of death and what comes after. I lost some loved ones in my childhood to unexpected tragedy, and I think the feeling of having them ripped away without notice may have stoked that fear fire a bit.
As an adult, while my faith and knowledge grew, my fear began to subside. I began to see death and the beginning of eternity with more beautiful eyes. It was becoming a place of hope for me instead of a place of fear. My anxiousness about death began to turn into something more beautiful with the promise of heaven.
In 2007 my father was diagnosed, rather unexpectedly, with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It is not a well-known disease, and there is no known cause or cure. They told us he could be gone in two years or 10. No one really knew. In March of 2009, the very same day we visited c|Life for the first time, my father was admitted to the hospital. The common cold that you and I would treat with cough syrup and chicken soup would land him in the hospital for a week. He walked in on his own, but what we found was not the common cold. It was a rapid progression of his disease, and things were not looking good. He was in and out of conversations and consciousness, and we were made aware there was not much they could do. We were all by his side that night, but eventually took our children home to sleep and left my mother and my brother to spend the night.
Around 4 a.m. Monday morning, we received a call from my brother. He basically told my sister and I to wake our family, including the grandkids, and to get there as soon as possible. He said that our Dad had specifically asked to see all of us, and that time was of the essence. The next hour or two were a blur, but the moments after we arrived are crystal clear. He was up, alert and looked good. My dad, who accepted Jesus as his savior long before my birth, told us that the kindest man he had ever met was in the room with us. He told us he had to go with him, and he wanted to. But he said the man gave him time to say goodbye, but not very long. We each had beautiful moments with him, moments we will treasure forever. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever been given.
After he spent time with each of us, he went to sleep. He never regained his voice again. 24 hours later, we were discussing the BiPap machine that was helping him breathe. It had basically begun to breathe for him. We were discussing things like hospice with the BiPap or turning off the BiPap to see what would happen. Eventually the decision was made to try turning it off, to see if his body took over for him. A paperwork glitch delayed the machine being turned off for an hour or so, and in that hour, Jesus took my dad home, all on his own, right over the top of the machine they were supposed to turn off.
I believe I was in the physical presence of my Savior, of my father’s Savior, that day. It was the grace and mercy of the Lord that provided for us as my dad was ushered from his earthly body and, one minute later, to his heavenly home and eternal life by “the nicest man he had ever met”. In those 24 hours, I got a glimpse of the hope of heaven, and my father gave the greatest gift he had ever given to me and to my entire family. His life and his testimony gave us hope. It was a witness to the promise that we have the opportunity to see each other again through Jesus Christ. What a faith legacy he left us. And on that day, with that hope, all my lingering fear was gone and replaced with a yearning for heaven, the day I will look into the beautiful face of the man who was in the room with us, and the day my heavenly Father calls my name.
One week ago, we received a text from Mini Camp that our 8-year-old had prayed his own prayer of salvation, one day before the sermon on heaven. To know that his eyes are set on eternal life with Jesus brings me to my knees. My prayer is that I can help him understand the beauty of heaven and the hope that it gives. I hope he will never live in fear, but in great anticipation and hope of what is to come.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, and kept in Heaven for you. — 1 Peter 1:3–4”
In this you rejoice though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though is it tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith with the salvation of your souls.
— 1 Peter 1:6–8
Our inheritance is kept safe for us in heaven. Unspeakable joy, reunions and beauty are awaiting us there. Our faith will be rewarded on that glorious day. This news makes the joys and sorrows of our earthly lives not only bearable, but something that ultimately becomes a source of our rejoicing. These trials give us a longing for the perfection of heaven, and a reason to hold onto our promised hope.