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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Keeping our eyes on Heaven...and not Death





My husband and I spent this past weekend in the lowlands of Charleston, SC with the local Audubon group...chasing birds, trying to avoid chiggers and mosquitoes, and making a 40th anniversary memory worthy of holding on to.

While the rest of the group cocked their ears and combed the sky and tree lines with their binoculars, I  was content to wander aimlessly behind them, intent on building a relationship with my newly acquired camera. I had high expectations of my new baby...I had read enough to know she was capable of great and mighty things...if only I could figure her out.

Let's just say that out of 490 shots, maybe 10 will ever be seen by human eyes other than mine. Like any new skill, it's going to take time and lots of practice and humility to acquire any sense of proficiency with it. It's a case of the camera being willing, but my being weak. 

So, this morning I'm sitting out on our deck...trying really hard not to itch the chigger bites...blasted things...and enjoying the unusual lack of humidity and heat that make walking outside in the morning here akin to stepping into a sauna. My thoughts turned to God...how could I not worship the Creator of all this beauty around me...flowers popping with color and birds of such vibrancy, bursting out with songs of praise to their Maker. It was a smorgasbord of delight...a veritable Garden of Eden! And the thought came to me...I could capture it with my camera! 

Or not. Because then the voice of reasoning set in, screaming something akin to, "What are you thinking? Have you had your devotions and prayer time yet? No? Well then, let's get our priorities straight!" So being the dutiful person I am, I retrieved my Bible and sat down to have devotions

And that's when it all fell apart. My state of bliss had lasted about one hour, and then all that I had been burdened with this past week came rushing over me like a rogue wave...bent on knocking me over and sending me flailing.

I don't know about you, but it's hard to for me to pray without emotion. Maybe some can do it, but I can't. Well, unless I'm in rote mode, where I go when I know I should pray and I do it just to get it over with so I will feel less guilty later. Yeah, I know...

As I prayed, all the sweet joy I had been feeling was replaced by biting pain...for those who had tragically lost a loved one...a friend who had experienced a devastating hit and run...another friend who had lost her father...all those dealing with cancer and illness and loss. By this time, tears were rolling down my face and my heart was clenched in sorrow. Suddenly everything beautiful was eclipsed...I couldn't see it anymore as the faces of those I loved filled my vision...faces contorted in pain and fear and hopelessness. Faces lined with grief...trying to find a place to put their pain.  

I had been there over this past year...it was a place familiar to me. 

It was then God nudged me...to look away from this dark place to Heaven...where there is no more pain or loss or separation, but where joy and beauty and grace abound. He gently reminded me that I have to remember this life here is only a brief part of the story...that now we see through a glass darkly but someday we will know...Him and His purposes and His goodness. His love demands that this is not all there is.

Heaven becomes nearer and dearer with the passing of each loved one in Christ. Jesus overcame death and the power of the grave...that work is finished, praise God! If we keep our eyes on Death, whether it's a loved one's or our own impending one, it blinds us and keeps us from seeing that a death...no matter in what form...is the ticket that gets us Home where justice and love reign.


In church recently, I sat beside a frosted window, sagging against the ledge as I struggled through a recent loss. Through my peripheral vision, I saw movement...faint outlines of people and cars passing by. But they were as ghost images. I knew they were there but I couldn't get to them...the windows did not open nor could I make out clearly anything beyond them no matter how hard I tried.

And then the truth fell on me like a soft blanket...that this is exactly what Heaven is. Real. With people. That we can only see through a frosted glass right now. But the point is: They are there. And they are alive. 

And as soon as the service...my time on earth...was over, I could join them.

Dear ones caught in the grip of pain, we do not sorrow as those who have no hope. Our challenge is to keep our eyes on Heaven...and not allow Death to steal our life here. For there is still so much that is beautiful and good, tempered as it now is by pain.

I want to close with this short reading from a book I just finished: More Beautiful Than Before...How Suffering Transforms Us by Steve Leder. It is only one of a dozen books I have read in order to survive this past year...

"I know that you are suffering. 
Not only because you have chosen to read this book, but because you are human.
 We all hurt. We all wound and are wounded. We all walk through some kind of hell. 
Do not come out of hell empty-handed. Do not let your suffering be in vain. 
Survive, heal, and grow when your heart or body aches. 
What was beautiful when whole is beautiful when broken too. 
The soaring bird amazes, but the wounded sparrow evokes an intimate, deeper, more resonant tone within our souls. 
Make music with what remains of your suffering. 
Dance and sing to a melody gentler, wiser, and more beautiful than before."



By God's grace may it be so in all of our lives. Now and forever more. Until we are finally Home. 

You are loved, dear one.










photo credit: CJS*64 <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/29289841094">Together can be forever !</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">(license)</a>