But Labor Day also marks some very significant beginnings–like the breathtaking fall season… and coffee with Bible in front of my cozy fire in the mornings. And of course not the least of these “new beginnings” is my entrance into a new decade!
I confess that as the new decade approached, my enthusiasm was at a record low. It wasn’t that I was afraid of getting older, nor of the nearer prospect of going to heaven– but after a very difficult July that included several sudden deaths– including my brother-in-law’s– I was overwhelmed with a dread that I was walking into a whole new chapter whose predominant theme would be “saying good-bye” to friends and siblings.
On the week prior to my birthday, Dan and I traveled by train to Glacier Park in Montana for a few days of quiet reflection, reading, and rest. During that time, alone with the Lord I confessed my sin of fear and pessimism, and asked God to miraculously change my heart and cleanse my mind, to give me a victorious vision for the future. I asked Him to somehow replace my heavy-heartedness with an all-encompassing picture of His amazing Sovereignty over what’s ahead, and of the incomprehensible grace and love that marks our future. Incredibly, God answered. And–as often happens– it came in a totally unexpected way…
On my birthday, Dan and I headed off for Seattle, two hours away. To celebrate, we had planned to meet with several couples for dinner and a ball game at the stadium, and I was looking very much forward to it. As we approached the city, Dan glanced at his watch and commented that since we were a little early, he was going to take a quick drive to a beach, where he wanted to give me a gift he had for me. Noticing flowers hidden in the back seat, I teased him that he was becoming such a romantic that he was probably trying to make amends for the very “un-romantic” marriage proposal he’d given me so long ago.
Hand in hand, we walked all the way down the long stairway that led to the beach on Puget Sound, and suddenly I caught a glimpse of our oldest son Joel at the bottom. That was a happy surprise, but not a shock, as they live close-by and I immediately assumed that Joel, Rachel and their little girls had come to surprise me on my birthday. Then suddenly a crowd of people also came into view, but still, I simply assumed it was the usual crowd of people enjoying the last hot days of summer on the beach… until I caught sight of Clay, one of our friends whom I had expected to meet at the restaurant!
Scanning the crowd in the distance, my attention was captured by a particular woman because, fascinatingly, she looked remarkably like my sister Dale who lived on the opposite side of the continent…
Stunned, I think I froze momentarily as I just stared at her… blinking… trying to comprehend what was happening as this same woman emerged from the crowd and came toward me. I felt myself slip into a shocked dreamlike-state, not feeling like I was really there as I cried, embracing my sister, my sweet life-long friend!
But that was only the beginning. As I glanced, shocked, from one face to the next, greeting wonderful friends from various chapters of my life, Jake and Maria Lund– friends from far back when we were both parents of very young families and Dan had led Jake to the Lord– broke through the crowd, having flown in to Seattle from their home in Pennsylvania! And our great friends from Bible college days– Larry and Sharon Cleek– were there from New York, as well as so many wonderful friends from all over the state, and all of my children and grandchildren! It was unbelievable….
Somehow my husband Dan, with the incredible help of our children, had planned this amazing celebration without my suspecting a single detail of it! But even yet, this was still only the beginning…
After amazing fun and fellowship till dusk with such wonderful friends from so many different chapters of my life at an absolutely perfect beach BBQ, some of the guests began to head for home. Then Dan announced to me that he had booked a couple of beautiful condos downtown Seattle where about 14 of our friends– mostly those who had come long distances– would be staying with us for two nights! So we headed out into the night, to the stunning condos overlooking the breathtaking harbor and the beautiful sparkling lights of downtown Seattle, to continue the fellowship with such great friends. But still, there was more…
Dan and our kids had provided the food for a wonderful, relaxing breakfast. (I am still amazed that I never suspected a single detail!) As we all sat talking and eating together, Dan announced that we were due to arrive at the harbor in fifteen minutes, so together we all walked to the waterfront and boarded a 70’ sailboat for a two hour sail on Elliott Bay in Puget Sound! The beauty of that sail, the peace and sheer joy of being enveloped with God’s most glorious creation– the sea, the wind, the sun, the mountains–with these people that I loved so well, are simply beyond words adequate to describe it!
After sailing for an hour, lunch was announced– and below deck, an amazing gourmet feast was spread out before us! Friends, fellowship, food… all were so outstanding– simply the best!
But there was more. From there, together we strolled through Pike Place Market and downtown Seattle, laughing, talking, totally enjoying each other’s company. Then after refreshing ourselves back in the condos, together we all headed off, by foot, to the Safeco Field stadium for a major league baseball game. What fun it was! What laughing and great fellowship!
By the next morning, almost all of our guests had left, and after taking Jake and Maria to the airport, hugging and expressing our love and appreciation for each other, Dan and I wound our way back through the mountains for a couple of days at our home with my sister Dale before her own return home.
Basking in the aftermath, I was incredulous with a delight that I had never experienced before, watching as all of these friends– most of whom had never met each other before this– had laughed and so enjoyed being together, then hugged each other good-bye as though they themselves had been longtime friends, promising to pray for each other, or to stay in touch. The greatest joy for both Dan and me was to see these, our wonderful friends, enjoying such a great adventure with each other. They were all here because they’d responded to Dan’s “call,” and were thereby drawn into such great fellowship with each other.
Our son Justin called me this afternoon and we chatted about the very special days we’d just experienced. We talked about the incredible, immediate fellowship with friends from so many different points of our history, many of whom we had not seen for very long periods of time. “You know what I think, Mom?” he said, “This is what heaven is going to be like!”
This morning, I had said the very same thing to Dan– that this experience had been the “appetizer for heaven’s wedding feast!” Through the plans and purposes that my husband had set in place because of his deep love for me, I had begun to see an amazing, victorious picture of what’s ahead… of Christ’s deep, deep love for His Bride– of the incredible mercy, undeserved grace and amazing love of a God whose plans for us are unfathomable!
The overwhelming joy and anticipation of the celebration that’s ahead has become so great to me now that it has literally eclipsed the dread I’d had of the “farewells” in my future. For now, we may sometimes have to endure times when we must say good-bye– yet these farewells are so temporal. Ahead of us, there will be unbelievable reunions, joy that’s truly inexpressable, feasts of the finest food, laughter, and the purest, most wonderful fellowship with those whose hearts are fixed on Him! And just when we will think we’ve reached heaven’s zenith, we’ll always find that “still, there is more!”
What’s also amazing is that my fellowship with friends and family was so complete because all of it was within the context of, and founded upon, the work of the one I love so well– my husband. As we celebrated, I did not always need Dan’s sole attention, yet it was because of his being right there among us that all of us were enjoying fellowship with each other so beautifully. Just like Christ. Dan was an incredible picture to me– and to all of us– of the deep love that Christ has for His Bride, the Church.
Likewise, without an all-consuming passion for our Husband–Christ– to be at the very center, there can be no such fellowship with others. Farewells will only be sad farewells. Recently over lunch, a friend who had experienced tragic loss this summer shared with Dan and me that during the initial shock of intense grief, he had experienced a terrifying sense of total abandonment and aloneness that he had never known before. Now in retrospect, he believes that God gave him that terrible experience of ‘hell’ in order that he would share with anyone and everyone that they do not want to go there– they do not want to know such intense aloneness and abandonment!
Heaven’s glory, however, is centered upon the very presence of Christ– our Husband. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have [amazing] fellowship one with the other, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7.)
All of life is our preparation for what’s ahead. We do not need to know the details, nor do we need to be afraid. God has amazing plans and purposes for us that we simply cannot imagine… and the very best experiences we know in this life point us always to what He has planned for those who love Him. The very best of these wonderful experiences are merely “appetizers for heaven’s feast!”
This birthday celebration was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Yet I know that the unfathomable best is certainly yet to come!
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