Monday, June 1, 2009

Heaven

I've never experienced life to be perfect, nor have I expected it to be so. I am usually not surprised if things go wrong. I don't feel offended. It's just the order of the universe. I do believe God is good and is in control, but somehow this world has gone very wrong. The fact that there is genocide in Africa, a booming sex trade in Europe, and millions of orphans worldwide testifies to this fact. Clearly, I am not the only person who has to deal with the effects of sin and death. So I usually feel like I can deal with my small share of difficulties.

However, losing Joseph has changed me in so many ways I almost feel like I've emerged from this a new person. I really and truly don't expect that everyone I'm close to will be alive tomorrow. Death has come so close to home that it seems like a very real possibility that anyone I love could be taken from me at any time. I look at newscasters or sportscasters and see their smiling faces and wonder, "Do you know how short life is? You are reporting on someone dying as if it couldn't happen to you or won't happen to us and yet your life could be taken from you this next minute." I just feel like world is carrying on in some kind of charade, pretending like we live forever and death is this horrible end that only comes to the very unfortunate or very old. But we all die. Every single one of us. No exceptions (unless God returns before we die, of course). Okay so that's the one exception. :)

But we don't live like we know we are going to die. We go about life, collecting toys and things and money, and chase after bigger houses, nicer cars, better jobs, as if all that will guarantee us some kind of permanence. How did we buy into this?

We were invited over to a couple's house the other night--the Scotts. They have lost two beautiful small children to a rare neurological disease that slowly robs its victims of the ability to talk, hear, move, function, yet it spares their brain in that they are aware of what is going on in their little bodies. They felt trapped in a once healthy body and their parents were powerless to stop their deterioration. What kind of hell on earth would that be?

Yet they invited us into their home, cooked us dinner, allowed us to see their children's rooms and pictures, and generally opened their hearts to us. I felt like we were walking on sacred ground. They had moved into this beautiful farm house with a barn to provide a better environment for their children and I felt so special they were willing to share it with us. But more than that, we instantly entered into a level of talking that I think is unusual for a first meeting. We talked about suffering, anger, pain, God, our counselors, our feelings, how we cope with our individual pain, etc. It was beautiful to enter into a real conversation about real things and not pretend like our lives were perfect. Sure, they are angry, confused, raging at God, raging at other people. But that doesn't scare me anymore. Before all this happened with Joseph, I would have been really sympathetic, but not very tolerant of people irate at God. I would have thought it irreverent. Now I see it as a natural honest response, and one that God can handle. And God has shown me the depths of feelings I can experience so when I see those in other people now it doesn't offend me or scare me like it used to. I really felt so blessed that they would share a window into their souls with us.

They are faced with the sobering fact that this world is not it. Their children are now in another place, and as much as we live in this world, our hearts are tied up in another. But the other side of feeling like death is close at hand is feeling like heaven is close at hand. I think so much about heaven now, talk about it almost every day with Holly, and probably view it as a much more real place than I used to. Holly will still say things like, "I like playing with Joe P. the best. But, he's in heaven." Or, "I do have a brother, but he's at heaven." We will often speculate about what he's doing, what he's playing with, if he's watching us and laughing, etc. The Bible says in Hebrews that we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" who are there cheering us on in the "race marked out for us." I believe that to be true, and I like to imagine Joseph very near, watching, laughing, encouraging, much more present than we can actually see.

I also feel like in worshiping now, the realness of God's presence is so overwhelming I can't help but cry. Every single time I go to church I have a really hard time not weeping openly. I don't completely understand why this is, but I think part of it is that I connect Joseph with Jesus now, so when I am singing to God I can picture Joseph there too, joining in the chorus, and the reality of that is so joyful but then sad that I am just overcome with emotion.

One day all things will be made right. One day things will be perfect. I am confident of that. But for now we live in the in-between, caught in a world of pain and sadness and gross imperfection, yet strangely connected to God and heaven and often catching glimpses of that beauty. It is a tough place to live in--yet the promise of perfection keeps me from losing all hope. One day I will see Joseph's smile again, sing with him, play with him and just enjoy being in God's presence. And there will be no sickness or sin or death. That hope doesn't make the pain of missing him go away, but it does keep me from drowning in it.

28 comments:

Kate Etue said...

Gill, It's good to hear that you're not drowning. Today I was just thinking back to our first couple play dates and how I felt God was telling me that it wasn't going to be easy but that he'd be in control. And he still is. We miss you guys a lot--come visit soon!

batmar said...

Thanks gill. You guys are my heroes...and not just when it comes to board games.

Jennifer said...

I was just lying in bed thinking about this in-between-world we are in and how much it stinks, how many distractions we have, what really matters (heaven), etc. Then I got hungry. Got out of bed, got cereal, laptop and POOF. Here is this amazing post about the very thing I was dwelling on, from your perspective - which is a powerful one. Thanks for sharing this. It was definitely moving and WOW and true.

Nana said...

Gillian, Thank you for a good perspective on living.I think I am ready for Heaven right now.I feel like you about not taking for granted the people around us any of us at any time could die.I never have felt it as strongly as in the past nine months.I pray for safety when travelling always now especially when I have precious cargo on board!!!The great thing is I have no fear of death I do pray that for all who read this blog.You are right we all are so consumed with stuff gadgets etc !!I got my first ipod on Mothers day and used it yesterday for the first time ..Holly listened too and I thought Oh No!!I might get her hooked on this ..Thankfully she was more interested in play-doh !!It was great to see you all today and I thank the Lord for each precious day I have been able to spend with you and Allen and Holly-bear.I love you all dearly.Listen to Scottys sermon from Yesterday ..You will cry..I did.....O.M.B

Chris said...

Gill, I am always thinking of you guys. I am happy that you posted.
Love,
Randi

Heinzfeet said...

That was AMAZING Gill. You are so gifted with words! Love you! Thanks for sharing so much of your heart with us.

Dando said...

Thank you so much for this post. I am going to share it with my community group tonight. We are studying Ecclesiastes and the meaningless of life outside of God. I still pray for you guys even though I have never met you. I hope to meet you at the 5k for Joseph this fall.

God Bless.

Lynn T said...

Gill, you continue to amaze me with your words, especially when you wrote, "that hope doesn't make the pain of missing him go away, but it does keep me from drowning in it"
I love you Gill and can't wait to visit soon
Lynn

Davy T said...

Im sure you hear it all time, but you are an amazing writer with an amazing heart. I love you very and i am really going to miss you guys.

Chloë said...

hey gillo. good to hear your thoughts and know how you're doing. loss like yours is so profound. however, not everyone has this opportunity to re-evaluate the meaning of their lives is this sensitive, insightful manner, and realise what the truth is. keep well, and well done. love chlo. xxx

Late Fragment, Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so? I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself beloved on the earth.

I think Jo P could definitely have asserted this sentiment. He was the luckiest little guy, in so many ways. xoxo

Amy Spiker said...

You have such a way with words. You put into words thoughts and emotions that are so difficult to explain. Thank you for sharing your soul. Fortunately, my husband is doing well with his chemo treatments and a prognosis at this point is good. Even still we both look at life, our relationship, our family with different eyes. It is all temporal and can be taken at any moment and that serves to draw us so much closer to God and to remember that things are just things and what used to be a crisis is now simply a minor setback. We feel different and many of our friends and family just don't understand our new perspective. I pray we don't lose it as time goes on. I pray we always remember that moment when we realized that it isn't ours. I believe Joseph is singing in that chorus and I love the thought of it. As I shared before- for some reason God led me to learn about Joseph and to "meet" you. It is a God thing and there is no other reason. Thank you for baring your soul, for putting it in words and being open. You have ministered to me in unexplainable ways and I am forever changed by Joseph's story.

Shannon said...

Thank you for writing. Your thoughts and experiences help me regain proper perspective. And I just like to hear how you are doing and what you are thinking about and learning.

I was just telling my husband last night that I used to be scared of heaven. But the older I get and the more I experience life I realize that this earth is not my home. I long for the place where there is no more sorrow or sin or goodbyes.

Praying for you today and thanking God for you.

Anonymous said...

It's beautiful to see the Truths of God be so evident in your posts. I'm thankful that you were able to be with others who know personally the complexity of grief. It's something no one wishes on another, but when it enters your life you have a choice- to work really hard to get through it or to embrace it and live. If embraced, the beauty emerges and grows and changes you and in some strange way, grief becomes your friend.

Hope we can see you sometime when we come up to see Allison and Brian.
Love you,
Mel

Jean Joiner said...

thanks for that...i've been so caught up in myself this week.

i needed to hear that so bad!

inkBLOTdesignsSTUDIO said...

In the nearly last ten years I have had my share of struggles with God. I go between anger and guilt, but have managed to hold onto a few bible verses that have brought me comfort, even in the deepest trenches of my grief. While I may not understand the "WHY" I try to focus on the message and take comfort from His word.

Lamentations 3:32-33
Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men.


Ecclesiatstes 3:1-8
For everthing there is a reason...

The Book of Job has always been a place of refuge for me. To know that I'm not the only one that feels as though I've lost everything.

You are in my thoughts and prayers every waking moment. All my love.

Céire

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

Oh, my sweet friend, that was so beautiful.

I am so honored to be called your friend.

Karen said...

Very well spoken. I continue to pray for you!

Anonymous said...

The Lord bless your family, and continue to bring you comfort.

Anonymous said...

Gillian,
Beautiful post about heaven. My true longing for heaven began in 2000 when my niece went to play with the angels at age 3. I can only imagine the fun she is having with the children we have longed to keep here with us. You have been on my mind a lot lately.
Thanks for sharing your heart with us!
Grace and Peace be yours in abundance!
Gina Butterfield

Audrey said...

I still think about you almost daily. My goodness, God is using you guys.

-Audrey

Anonymous said...

I've heard of that disease. OR maybe I've heard of diseases like it. You know, I really don't remember with much fondness the non-recoverable hours I spent in college studying Christian apologetics (which served mainly to make me a really big butthole, and nearly lost me Paige - ugh!), but one thing that I did learn from that study was something which gives some anchoring to the problem of evil. A classic argument against the existence of God is the problem of evil - how can a good God allow such evil. And I think it's always been a really strong buoy for me through difficult times to remember things that I studied by these Christian apologists when they pointed out that if God did not exist, then we'd have an even harder time making sense of the events we call evil, because the concept of evil assumes a standard of right and wrong. And I think the way that we use evil really means that we believe in a kind of cosmos-level wrongness, too - maybe even something on a more personal level. I mean, it's not evil in some kind of abstract sense that children die and suffer. It seems like it's really more like a personal force of oppression - an enemy - that we're talking about. But the way we get so upset about it seems like at least deep down in our minds and hearts, we believe this thing really is wrong - incorrect, villainous, however you want to put it. In a way, it's the problem of evil that sometimes, in my bleakest moments of doubt and skepticism (which I seem to struggle with now more than ever) that holds my mind close to Christ (so maybe that was why those years were spent in those heady apologetics manuals). I just can't buy that my mind invents the idea of evil as part of a larger evolutionary strategy that will help maximize the survival of my own genes. It just seems like to me that the wrongness of death and evil requires something that is cosmologically huge, personal and ultimately good.

Anyway, just rambling and thinking about your visit. I know God does not do these things to authenticate his existence for us, but I think it is nonetheless helpful for me for situating the wrongness of evil things with the call to follow Christ through it.

Have I told you that I have a book here by Wolsterstorff for you with your name and Alan's name on it?! Argh, I want to send it to you but am a lazy bum! But your post is really in the same vein as it, and I think you'd love it.

I am grateful for your public faith, as you know. I know are you are merely being yourself, and the faith you exhibit is not something you are doing, but rather something that comes out of you. I am encouraged by it, though.

Your visit to that family reminds me again - and I feel like such a broken record on this, but I know it's true - that death and suffering are evil things. They don't just happen, and they definitely natural. I think it's very meaningful that Paul calls death the last enemy of Christ in one of his epistles. He will one day come down and crush the children of that satanic beast with his heel, so horrible is it.

Anonymous said...

.. that should read that death is "NOT" natural. Hopefully clear from the context. Love you guys. And I forgot to sign it. - scott cunningham

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post Gillian.

Love,
Catherine Morris

Anonymous said...

Gillian, that was an incredible post. After Chip died I was consumed with learning all I could about heaven. The book "HEAVEN" by Randy Alcorn is the best one I have read. It is all based on scripture and it is exciting! It really changes the way most people think of heaven. It helped me so much to know what he is experiencing and what we all will experience. I hope you are enjoying your new home. God bless you always.
Love always,
Ann Lewis

kelly said...

I am so thankful to you. Your honesty is such a gift to my sinking heart. Pray for you often.

abbiegrace said...

Gillian, we just finished the narnia series last night before the kids went to bed....the end of The Last Battle is so powerful to me. I can't believe I was just reading that and thinking about heaven so much last night and then just happened to read your beautiful post this morning.

We are living in the shadowlands now. Thanks for giving your perspective on this.
--lots of love to you & your sweet family.

Angela Satterfield said...

That is so wonderful to read. Thanks for continuing to share your journey with so many and in such an honest way.
love, angela

Carrigan Family said...

This world is not our home ...... I know I can't even come close to understanding your pain - mine is still the fear of losing my child, but I do have a longing for Home since Ryan's cancer journey that I never had before - I long for that day for no more suffering, no more pain - the day that Satan will be defeated and Jesus will be victorious. Some days it seems like all I see is pain, and my heart longs for His returning ...... it is "real" to me that that day will come. I like how Nancy Guthrie says it - something like one day longer since she's held her babies, but also one day closer to being with them again. Have you heard of her - she has a neat website and some very good books - you feel like you are sitting down and talking with her. Nancy Guthrie - "Holding on to Hope" is one of the books. She and her husband are hosting respite get-aways - I know one is in October near Nashville.

Thank you for sharing your soul - that cannot be easy - I can see Jesus in every line.