Can You Only Imagine?
Have you ever lamented an upcoming move (lament is a much more spiritual word than complain), only to discover that you really, Really, REALLY love your new location and would never go back even if you could?
Last Tuesday, my first cousin Gary died suddenly of cardiac arrest. One moment he was cheerfully saying goodbye to his wife, Sue, as he headed out the door on an errand. Moments later, Gary entered eternity. His passing has shocked our family, and yet I can only imagine what it must have been like for Gary to close his eyes at his beloved Wisconsin home and open them again in heaven.
If you were following my “Tuesdays with Maggie” posts last year, you know I did a lot of lamenting about leaving friends and everything familiar when we relocated from the Midwest to the foothills of the Smokies. (Y’all were incredibly patient and encouraging as I blubbered.) I just could not imagine loving another place as much as I did the one we were leaving.
This morning I hiked Wolfpen Ridge behind our new home here in the Smokies. It’s about a 10% grade near the top, and the only thing I can do as I haul my aging body up the steep slope is practice Lamaze breathing while trying not to have a stroke.
But when I reach the deserted farmstead at the top of the ridge and turn around? The view of those blue mountains fading into the distant sky snatches my breath and drops my jaw every time. After a lifetime as a flatlander, I simply cannot believe anything can be as beautiful as what I’m seeing here in the Smokies.
Many of you reading this post are Christ-followers, as I am. You have the faith-assurance that heaven will be your home someday. But you’re not ready to make the move just yet. How can anything be as desirable as the familiar people and places you love here on earth?
Several years ago, I had a remarkable conversation about heaven with a family practice physician from the Nashville area, Dr. Reggie Anderson. Reggie modestly says he’s just a country doc, but he was the first one Steven Curtis Chapman called when a medical emergency arose in the Chapman family.
Unlike many physicians who turn the care of their dying patients over to hospice workers, Reggie stays at their bedsides to serve, as he puts it, as a “midwife to souls.” As a medical doctor, he is intimately acquainted with the distinctive malodor of the body breaking down, the smell of death.
Yet time after time as he marked the moment of a patient’s passing, he suddenly became aware of what he could only describe as “the smell of heaven” – a citrusy, flowery fragrance–and he repeatedly witnessed the phenomenon of a visual glow that appeared above and to the right of the patient that made the room brighter and warmer before fading. With patients who were belligerent and resistant to faith in Christ, the moments of their passing were dramatically different. *
I don’t know what my cousin’s final moments were like last week, but I was at my dad’s side nearly twelve years ago when he took his last breath. The hospital was sending Dad home so he could spend his final days in hospice care, but as the ambulance drivers carried his stretcher into the house, I heard them tell the waiting nurse that Dad only had minutes, not days. “You’re home, Dad!” I cried. “You made it home!”
And you know what? In a flash of glory he was.
Dad loved his home in Illinois just as I love mine here, but I know he’d never return even if he could. The Lord he loved had already gone ahead to prepare a place for him, and for my cousin Gary, and for all who love Him. What awaits us on the other side of eternity is something far greater, far grander, far superior to anything we can conceive of.
Maybe West Virginia or North Carolina or Illinois or Massachusetts are almost heaven to you or to me, but you know what? They’re not.
We can only imagine.
[If you’re interested in hearing more, Reggie Anderson, MD, shares stories of his experiences in his 2013 bestselling book Appointments with Heaven: The True Story of a Country Doctor’s Healing Encounters with the Hereafter.]