Tonight, I am not where I want to be at all. I’d like to be in Texas with my husband as he mourns, there, the death of his sister, Laura Jenkins. I’d like to be there, not because it would be enjoyable, in any sense, but because it would be my honor to get to personally listen to the sweet tribute that will be her memorial service and to personally hug her husband and children and her parents who have meant so much to our family though the years. I’ve known Laura, of course, for as long as I have known my husband—over 40 years—and I have laughed harder with her than almost anyone. We laughed so hard that night I went sprawling across the WalMart parking lot in a mammoth fall, my feet right out from under me, sliding across wet pavement for several feet in a monsoon. (I’m still laughing just writing about it, but her laughter always exacerbated mine, particularly if we were in a place in which we were not supposed to be laughing.) I’ve laughed until I hurt at stories Laura told about ordinary people in her congregation, community or work place, because she could imitate funny people doing outrageous things better than almost anyone I know. I laughed when she wore her Christmas sweater inside-out to an exclusive Christmas event. I laughed when she accidentally gave a very expensive Christmas gift to a friend at a party where she intended to give a pair of socks, because she had wrapped the two gifts (for different people) in identical boxes and placed them in the same closet. She lived, laughed and loved just about as well as anyone I ever knew. I wanted to be there to see her face one more time, hug her neck and say goodbye to her. I wanted to hear that infectious laugh once more, even if it was quieter and softer. But this time, for reasons over which I had no control, it was not to be. I’m glad Glenn made it to Texas in time to converse with her and to see her smile before she won this battle that all the faithful, one day, will win. I want to be faithful and win like she did.
I personally know (with amazing precision) the hurt through which her daughter will battle on her way to be with her. I was 33 years old when I lost my mother to the same wretched disease. I think that’s exactly the age of Laura’s daughter, Amanda. My children were the ages of hers. My husband was a minister, like hers. It will not be easy. But it will be bearable because of Calvary’s sting removal. Jesus took away the sting of death that’s hopelessness. An old rugged cross made all things new for Laura. The pain on that hill took her’s away–for good–in the valley of the shadow of death. An empty tomb rolled away that one big stone for millions to come; those who’ve been buried and raised with Him.
I’m not where I want to be today. But Laura is exactly where she wants to be. I well remember standing beside the grave of her tiny firstborn with Laura and Jeff. Her words have echoed in my heart over and over. She said “But I want to go on to heaven now.”
While, I’m sure that, with the birth of her daughter and later, her second son, she had strong desires to stay and mold and watch as their lives unfolded (and I’m absolutely positive that her inner Lolli was hoping to watch three beautiful and talented grandchildren all the way to adulthood), she never stopped wanting to ultimately go to heaven.
I often thought about my own mother and how that, no matter how much I missed her, how hard the days were when I needed her counsel or her affirmation—affirmation that I was doing okay at things that mattered—I still would never have wished her back. How can anyone wish for the return to life—life with sin and dirt and sickness and pain and tears and sorrow and loneliness—for a loved one who left prepared for the place where nothing’s ever been dirty and no one has ever hurt? ( I sometimes think Lazarus must have been pretty frustrated when Jesus called him back to Bethany.)
Instead of wishing her back, you turn to life again and just start wishing yourself and your spouse and your children to be there, in that sorrow-less place. You start wishing it so much more than you ever did before and you wish it more with every new day than you wished it the day before. Oh, you don’t want to go right now. But you REALLY want to go. You start wishing it so much that every day is a series of decisions that inch you closer and closer to really being there. Friends turn into souls right in front of your eyes. Get-togethers turn into evangelism. Kids’ tournaments and plays and parties turn into golden chances to teach little hearts Matthew 6:33 in myriads of ways. Houses turn into temporary tabernacles and colors and clutter, square footage and styles start to matter less and less as time goes by. Chance meetings and introductions are open service doors and worship assemblies are vestibules of heaven. You see more clearly the median between the narrow lanes of life and the wide way that leads to destruction and your mother-wings are exercised in keeping children out of, not just the broad way, but even off the shoulder of that road. You are intentional about your kids and heaven and the memory of the one who was so intentional with you is a constant affirmation of your life’s work in little hearts.
And your daddy. That’s a different story. You want him to be happy so badly that you’ll travel almost any distance to let him put his arms around your kids on any holiday, birthday or any day that ends with “y”. His happiness. You want it, but you can never figure out how to make it happen. Nothing, at least for a while, makes him seem truly content. That’s because His center of contentment has relocated. You keep reminding yourself he’s on his way there, too. And you rehearse the comforting truth constantly that, when we don’t know what to do, we serve a God who always does know what to do. You find yourself giving up and giving to Him more often and with more faith than you ever thought could grow in your soul. You pray harder than you ever prayed before. You give your daddy over and over to the care and providence of a God that knows the end of His story and Who is already holding and protecting half (maybe even the better half) of that great man.
And one day, you wake up and, somehow, you are relieved that some of the hardest pain of life is behind you. You look in little faces and see pretty accurate images of your mother’s characteristics; not necessarily her eyes or her nose or even her expressions, but you start to see her humor, her ingenuity, her selflessness and, most importantly, the faith that made her the silent anchor of so many people all around her. And, in that transfer, your children become the precious commodity that you most want to place in heaven with her.
By and by, your home starts to look more and more like heaven. It becomes an anchoring moor—a haven of stability and faith— for kids, then teens, then young adults, and finally, grandchildren– who desperately need those staples in this crazy world. You think about how proud your mom would have been of her grandchildren who are bringing glory to the One who’s taking care of her. You think about others who’ve known and loved your kids—people who’ve died —who just might be over there telling your mother about her grandchildren—about their faith, about their baptisms, about their first little sermons or the way they are influencing others for Jesus.
She’d be happy to know your home is looking more and more like heaven. But really, heaven is looking more and more like home.