Heaven-Bound… But Later, Okay?

Heaven sounds like a beautiful place to go after I've lived life to the fullest here on earth. But maybe Jesus wants me to see much more.

There’s nothing like a diagnosis of a potentially serious disease to bring you face to face with your mortality. In my case… it was breast cancer. All the wondering ahead of time about how I would take the news if it happened someday did nothing to prepare me for the reality.

It’s both way more complicated and yet, strangely simpler than I had imagined.

I remember wondering as a child why the people I knew who called themselves Christians seemed to get so worked up about actually dying. I mean, if Heaven is as great as we say it is and if we love Jesus more than we love anyone else than why wouldn’t we be happy about it when it finally happens? Simplistic, I know, but do you ever wonder about that too?

I mean, why the desperate hanging on to life, no matter how wonderful a one we have been blessed with, if we really believe that God has a better, eternal place for us? Might the answer be because we actually don’t, in our heart of hearts, believe exactly that?

In some ways I’ve felt double-minded about the whole thing… kind of hypocritical, actually. On one hand I’ve sung my share of praises and love songs to Jesus that proclaim my longing for Him and seeing Him face-to-face while trying to ignore a heart-thudding fear of actually going there anytime soon.

In fact, the words in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV) that say, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” weren’t an accurate description of the way I felt about dying at all.

Because, no, I actually couldn’t say with any degree of truthfulness that I had felt courageous about dying. I knew that as a believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior that I was supposed to, but the fact was that I wasn’t.

And I felt guilty about it all the time. Why? Because deep down in my heart I knew that I wasn’t willing or ready to “be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” I knew that I was quite happy to be in my body for as long as possible because I have plans for the here and now:

  • I so very much long to enjoy the retirement years with the love of my life, my husband of thirty-eight years. We’ve talked and dreamed about what those years might look like with a hopeful assumption that we would get to enjoy them… together. (We have an agreement between us that is only half-joking; I’m supposed to die first because we both agree that he would do better as the surviving partner. It’s selfish on my part, but what can I say… I’ve loved this man since I was fourteen!)
  • I have seven children. Our four oldest have presented us with 17 grandchildren and we are over the moon excited about the newest baby arriving in September! That’s a lot of sweet blessings to love and hug and buy birthday and Christmas presents for and I would like to continue doing so for as long as possible. Plus, my three youngest children are unmarried and who knows how much more grand baby potential God may bless our family with over the years!
  • And I want to enjoy the new freedom in Christ that I have been experiencing through the work of redemption and healing of heart wounds that Jesus has been doing in my life over the last decade… on this side of glory. I’ve had moments of deep joy sweep over me in the realization that my Heavenly Father has allowed me to live long enough to experience this measure of His grace poured out towards me and I’m honestly curious to see how much more of becoming Christ-like He has in store for me.

So when my recent diagnosis of cancer a few weeks ago first became a strong possibility, and not quite a week later, a definite fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some major changes had occurred in my heart. The lifelong fear of dying had been replaced by an incredible peace about the future… even the going-to-Heaven-maybe-sooner-than-I-had-anticipated part!

I am experiencing a joy-filled place of resting in the plan of Jesus for my life that feels authentic and deep and strong, and that I know without a doubt can only come from God.

“for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:19-21 ESV)

It is my prayer that God will give me the courage I need to honor Jesus in my body… in health, in sickness, or in death. Because I truly want the beautiful proclamation found in Philippians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,”  to be true of me. 

Because He loves us, oh, so much… Wendy

Heaven... it's the place all of us Christians want to go, right? Or do we? Do our day-to-day lives reflect a longing to dwell with Jesus in the home He has prepared for us? Perhaps God has more to show us about eternity... here and now.

Where is God in the Waiting?

Waiting seems to be one of those unavoidable circumstances that come up over and over again. Why does God require us to wait anyway?

The long-awaited call came on a Monday when I was in the dressing room at Goodwill. My fumbling fingers clutched the phone to my ear while I desperately tried to make out what the muffled voice on the phone was saying. This was it; the results of my three breast biopsies were finally here! Except they weren’t…

The news that I had been told would come that Monday or Tuesday wouldn’t be coming after all. Due to restrictions placed on the radiologist’s office that did the biopsies by the referring physician, I would not be getting my results over the phone. Instead, I was told by the receptionist from my doctor’s office that I would have to make an appointment for later that week to go over the results in person.

At that point my composure began to crumble. I struggled in a vain attempt to calmly ask the woman if she could please make the appointment for as soon as possible. After she accommodated my request by agreeing to move my visit to the office for late afternoon the next day, I said a shaky good-bye and hung up.

Waiting… is there anything we humans dislike more?

Oh, it’s not all bad. When we’re children we wait with antsy anticipation for summer vacations, Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, our first bike, and for our next birthday. As adolescents we are focused on our first job, getting our driver’s license, graduating from high school, and our plans for the future.

Adults have their own much-anticipated life goals to see come into fruition: launching a career, finding a life partner, marriage, buying a home, and perhaps starting a family. Those times of waiting are pleasurably difficult. They may make us squirm with impatience over the delay, but at least the thing we are waiting for is something we want.

Then there are the unavoidable, irritating, first-world problem waits: backed up traffic, cash register lines, waiting room purgatory, and the ever-frustrating department-of-motor-vehicle of whatever-state-you-live-in waits.

But then it gets serious. These are the agonizing waits: waiting for employment after a season of being out-of-work, waiting to heal, waiting to make friends after a move, waiting to push that baby out after nine months of pregnancy and a million hours of labor, waiting to find out if a loved one is going to make it through a difficult surgery, and, most recently for me, waiting to find out if my biopsies were positive or negative.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “wait” as:

  • to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.
  • to not do something until something else happens 
  • to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

Notice a pattern? “To stay in a place… to not do something… to remain in a state.”

The last thing I want to do during a long strung-out time of waiting is “to not do something!” So my go-to formula to feel better is to distract myself by doing. And while there’s nothing wrong with being pro-active by accomplishing things that make you feel better, I think Jesus is leading me to slow down and sit with Him during the waiting.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)

There’s a sweet sort of longing welling up within my heart.  Psalm 145:15-16 KJV says, “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.”

 May my eyes be evermore on my Savior, satisfied whether within… or without… the seasons of waiting.

There’s an amazing portion of scripture that says, “And therefore will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you, and therefore will he be exalted, that he may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18 KJV) What? You mean God waits too? And furthermore… why exactly is the God of the Universe waiting?

He waits “that he may be gracious to you.” To you, beloved… and to me. And in turn, we who wait for Him… are infinitely and amazingly, blessed by Him“blessed are all they that wait for him.”

There’s a sweet stillness that flows over and into me in the waiting when I stop running and fighting and distracting myself from it.

It is my prayer that I will grow in my ability to patiently wait… not just for a miserable period of time to be over, but for those times of waiting to increasingly become a precious opportunity to enter into a time of resting in Jesus as I wait, trusting in His goodness and love, before Him.

Why do we have to wait anyway? Does God understand how hard it is for us to wait? Is there a reason that waiting seems to be such an unavoidable part of our day to day lives? If so, is there a way for us to stop seeing waiting as an unavoidable hassle to be endured? Perhaps there is!

Grace for the Moment

flower, blessed unravelling

Yesterday was not a particularly good day… which is a bit of an understatement. When the doctor examining me after my diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound said, “I’m pretty much one hundred percent sure that the lumps in your breast are cancerous,” my plans for the day, and perhaps the rest of my life, shifted, shattered, and fell away leaving me feeling empty and yet, strangely, full too.

In a way I felt like this was the moment I had been waiting to arrive for decades. It was what the writer described so poetically in Job 3:25 (ESV) that says, “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.”

Maybe you’ve escaped it… the ever-present dread of something awful arriving. In my case it was the breath-catching fear that one day I would experience what I called, “The Click.” In that instant you go from thinking that something bad might happen to knowing that it already has. 

In short, The Click is that split second when what you desperately hoped would never become a reality… does. If so, let me congratulate you. Because once it happens you can never wholly go back to the untouched-by-tragedy person that you once were, and always hoped you would remain.

It’s as if a veil or fog has lifted and now you know firsthand that: you are not going to live forever and financial disasters are possible and houses burn down and your child might have an accident or in my case… I might get cancer.

Job 3:26 (ESV) goes on to say, “I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes,” which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject. Believe me when I say that it made for a troubling testimony for this trying-to-be-a-good Christian woman.

But I am also enough of a realist to realize that bad stuff happens… even to Christians. The Bible is chock-full of stories about people who suffered… a lot.  As a result, I’ve never been under the illusion that by some miracle I would escape my own share of hardship.

Well, wait a minute. That statement is both true and false. Although I did fear bad stuff would happen, I also operated from a deep-seated belief that by careful planning and making good choices that I could somehow avoid many of them. That’s accurate to a point. And the Bible certainly supports that belief in cautioning us that we “reap what we sow.”

But too much emphasis on trying to be good can lead to either a “saving ourselves” mentality or a sense that somehow we deserve an easy comfortable life. Not so. Jesus made that clear when He said, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

So in going back to my unexpected news I have to admit that I wasn’t totally surprised. When I found the lump a week earlier I had a pretty good hunch that it wasn’t going to be good news. What was surprising was that I didn’t feel scared. Because of the soul cleansing work of Jesus Christ, the thing I had dreaded for so long had lost the power to frighten me.

“He is not afraid of bad news;his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (Psalm 112:7-8 ESV)

Honestly? I am truly filled with an indescribable joy in Christ despite the fact that I am facing the possibility of losing only God knows what and I really and truly feel peace about it.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

My version of the above verse looks like this: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding (and is something I never in my wildest dreams thought I would experience), will guard your hearts (you mean I don’t have to come up with something on my own?) and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Does this mean I have no fear? No. It means that when I feel fearful I can turn to Jesus and He gives me peace.

Does this mean I’m not trying to figure out what might happen next? No. It means that when I try to look too far ahead I sense fear rushing in and I know that I don’t have grace for that yet, so I pull back and give the next steps to Him.

Does this mean I’m not dealing with feelings of grief? No. But it does mean that in going to the sad places I am aware that only Jesus knows what is ultimately going to happen and that I can trust Him to comfort and support me as I look to Him because He is good.

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”  (Psalm 107:1 ESV)

In short, I have all the grace I need… for this present moment and for all the moments that He, in His infinite goodness, allows to come.

God’s grace is exactly what we need, whether for the past, the present, or the future. However, we can’t hoard it. We must trust in Him, believing that He will give us grace for the moment… and all the moments to follow.