I’ve only been to Europe once, with my husband Dan and his family in the late ‘80’s. Our time in Switzerland was certainly a memorable experience, until the end, when Dan left a few days before I did and enthusiastically headed off through France, Spain, and into Portugal for several weeks on a missions trip. Left without him, my last night in Switzerland was completely sleepless as I restlessly tossed and turned in terror over the prospect of having to travel alone through a strange country where all the communication was in German, a language I did not understand.
In the early morning hours, I headed fearfully into the unknown– struggling to decifer German signs and symbols that were supposed to direct me from the bus to the train station, to the correct train to Zurich, to the airport, to my flight to Munich, Germany, to the correct transfer of planes to Toronto… where I’d eventually be home free.
My sister-in-law Barb had prayed for me before I left, that God would place His angels along my way, to help me. And to my total amazement, that’s exactly what ended up happening! From the sweet little old German lady who invited me– in very broken English– to join her for breakfast on the dining car, to the university student who checked my pass and nudged me in the right direction when he saw the confustion on my face, I was completely stunned to find myself swallowed up in a most amazing, wonderful experience. “I can’t believe this is really happening!” I remember thinking as I stared out the window of the train, watching the beautiful European countryside go by as I sipped coffee with the sweet German lady in the dining car.
Finally landing at the airport in Toronto, I felt like I had just been on the most incredible ride of my life, and I felt foolishly sheepish to think of how terrified I had been over the “unknown.”
I think that’s what it’s going to be like when we finally get to heaven. Somehow, we tend to fear what’s unknown. We long for heaven itself, but we’re afraid of the journey from here to there– and yet when we finally arrive at that wonderful destination, I wonder if we will sheepishly regret that we’d ever been foolish enough to worry about what God has promised will be absolutely amazing.
The memory of that European travel experience returned to me this past week with vivid acuteness. The past several weeks have been full of grief upon grief, as one after another, several sudden deaths occurred. Already mourning the tragic death of a friend’s brother who fell from the trail they were hiking together two weeks ago, we were shocked to get word that my sister’s husband– my brother-in-law Dave– died very suddenly and quickly of a heart attack last week. Time stood still again, so close to the edge of eternity once more.
During this difficult week, my sister Connie has totally amazed me with the grace and beauty with which she has endured the sudden premature death of her husband. I suspect that the peace she has exuded– even through tears and waves of grief that wash over her periodically– comes from the absolute confidence she has in the peace and beauty of Dave’s journey, as he was ushered by God’s angels into eternal glory in the presence of Jesus Christ. Words from a prayer given this last Sunday when we attended our son and daughter-in-law’s church arrested my attention and became my frequent prayer for Connie this week: “May we bear our burdens with diligence and dignity, secure in Your Providential Love.” Connie has certainly been a testimony of this prayer.
Instead of focusing on the grief of Dave’s sudden death, Connie chose instead to focus on the celebration of his life, and the blessed assurance that Dave’s journey is joyfully completed. Friends and family laughed together, shared memories and funny stories intermixed with tears, and applauded after Dave and Connie’s grandson played his guitar and sang in honor of his Grampa’s memory. Guests were invited to use the Sharpies provided to write farewell notes on the casket, and together everyone sang “Amazing Grace”– because God’s grace truly is amazing.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57)
Dale, another one of my sisters, once told me she expects to arrive disheveled in heaven, her shirt-tail probably hanging out, glasses crooked, and her hair messy as she stands in amazement saying, “Whoa!! That ride was amazing!”
Yes, I think she may be right. Dave, we sure will miss you, brother! You’ve reached your destination. But wait for us on the other side… we’ll be there. At the end of the journey!
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