I have no clue what heaven is like. Oh, I’ve read all about the streets of gold and multitudes singing. A throne room where the Almighty Himself sits above all creation. But that still doesn’t give me much to go on. Not in my experience. I’ve never held any gold in my hands. I’ve heard a choir or two, but no more than 50 to 100 people. And I’ve only sat on one kind of throne.
I’ve heard all my life that when someone dies, there are two destinations. The good ones go up to heaven. But “up” is kinda relative to where you’re standing. It’s a general and rather vague direction that doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. Up, here in Georgia, is completely opposite of a fella standing in Western Australia. Up is more like “away” in nearly any direction from the equator to the polar caps. We live on a peanut size ball of rock compared to up, wherever that might be.
And how far up? I used to think about my ancestors living on the clouds. “Your granddaddy is so proud of you. He’s looking down right now with a big old grin on his face.” I’d lay on my back out in the yard sometimes trying to get a glimpse of him. Wondering who might be peeking down and checking on things. But since man has walked on the moon and sent rovers to Mars and put telescopes out near the edge of the solar system, I’m guessing that I’m shooting a little low thinking that heaven might be on the clouds.
I’ve got questions, too. Do we look pretty much the same? I’d like to have my hair back the way it was, and maybe straight teeth. What about BBQ? I’d really hate it if there was no BBQ in heaven. If I were to be offered a choice between a harp and a grill, I’d take the grill all day long. Accommodations? I hear tell that there are mansions, but I’m really more of a cabin-by-the-lake kind of guy. Are there open fields and mountains? Fishing holes and hammocks? Sunrises and star-filled skies? What about dogs? Surely, there’ll be lots of happy dogs.
There’s no way we’ll ever fully know this side of heaven what heaven is like. But every now and then you catch a glimpse. I got a peek just last week. Nothing miraculous. No prophetic visions like Daniel or John the Revelator. Nothing like that. Just a sunset by a lake and cool evening breeze. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. It was one of those moments that you wish wouldn’t end so sooon. And, in my feeble mind, just a little bit of heaven is exactly that. A peace and a calm that is forever.
I’ll give you one better. A little background first.
Since my oldest daughter and her husband sold their home in August, they have been living like nomads waiting to close on the new house. They have slept in as many as four different locations in the last two months. Living out of suitcases and Rubbermaid tubs. Washing socks and underwear in borrowed machines. Making pit stops at the Publix restroom because they did not own a pot to pee in.
The timing was awful. I mean, living like this is awful anytime, but they moved out of the house the week that Beth went into the hospital. Everything but toothbrushes and basic essentials went into storage. And they still found a way to spend time down here with me. Laura helped me get her to the hospital. Eric handled work and kids. Dorothy cried that she wanted to go home, but they didn’t have one.
Eric’s line was classic. “I’m not sure how to explain to a three-year-old that Mommy and Daddy made poor choices and are now homeless.”
In the middle of all this, my grandkids lost their Nana. Zelda seems to understand it a little bit. But it’s hard to tell how Everett and Dorothy, at 4 and 3, are processing everything. The first time they came to the house after the funeral, Dorothy asked me, “Where’s Nana?”
“She’s not here, sweetheart. She’s in heaven.” She seemed to accept that.
I have no idea what they really think about her being gone. I mean, if I can’t adequately comprehend heaven, I’m sure they don’t have a clue. They play and laugh and run around the house just like before. The fact that Nana is gone doesn’t seem to be much on their minds. Other than the one time, as far as I know, they’ve never asked about her since.
The rest of the story.
Now that the days are shorter and the sun is coming up later, Laura is taking the kids to day care in the dark. They often get to see the sunrise out the car window on the way. A couple of days ago, the colors were evidently somewhat striking. Lots of orange and yellow and red poking around purple looking clouds.
The kids are in their seats in back. Knowing my daughter, there’s probably music on the radio. It’s just a regular day. And out of the blue, Everett points to the sunrise and asks, “Mommy, did Nana paint that for us up in heaven?” Dorothy chimed in, “Yeah, Nana did that.”
What? Where did that come from?
Laura was a little caught off guard. The kids hadn’t even mentioned Nana in a while. But who knows what goes on inside those little minds? Maybe they have a better idea than any of us adults about what heaven is like. Maybe they see things with a clarity that has been blurred for us by the day-to-day grind of life.
After a few tears welled up, Laura said, “I bet she did. You think Nana painted that just for you?”
Two simultaneous yells from the back seat. “Yeah.”
I don’t guess it matters whether or not I understand what heaven is like, or where exactly it might be. What matters is that a whole host of loved ones that we know are there. No pain. No sorrow. No regrets. They are home where they belong. And that’s all I need to know.
Next time you catch a glimpse of the sun breaking through the clouds on the horizon, remember this. Heaven may be someplace way beyond our ability to see or understand. The distance is incomprehensible. But the touch of heaven is as close as the sunlight on your face. The warmth of its embrace reaches around every broken heart. And the breath of eternity itself whispers hope to all who will listen.
Best of all, every now and then you’ll get a sunrise or a sunset that speaks to all the emptiness inside. You’ll think, “Did you paint that for me?”
And the answer is, “Yes, I did. I had a little Help. But this one’s just for you.”