Sometimes, God gives us glimpses of His glory and sweet, tiny tastes of heaven and it is amazing to behold. I can remember one of those moments. It was the morning of my husband Gabe’s funeral and I was dancing to Mercy Me’s, “I Can Only Imagine,” one of his last requests. It is a song dear to my heart that expresses the unimaginable wonder of what heaven will be like. It was as though the terrible pain of the day was suspended for the few minutes of the song and there I tasted the joy of heaven. The sweet presence of the Lord, even in a time of deep sorrow gives us hope that there is more to this life than what is seen. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
When my dear husband, Gabe went home to be with the Lord on September 1, 2003, I was obsessed with thoughts of heaven. I searched the Scriptures about heaven, read books about it, cried to songs about it, and even dreamed about it. I hopelessly wanted to be with my husband and yearned for the day that I would be reunited with him. With three rambunctious, grieving boys still home with me, I soberly realized that I had much work to do here on earth. Pain, new trials, and sorrow shadowed our household for years, yet God was there and thoughts of heaven continued to encourage me. “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere”(Psalm 84:10). My heartbreaking loss led me into a deep communion with Christ that allowed me to realize that I was sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
Here is what I wrote in my journal a few weeks after Gabe’s death:
Sometimes, I just cry out in desperation to connect spiritually and emotionally with Gabe. I remember when he thought his life was slipping away. We called the ambulance that day. I looked at him, wanting to hold him to emote and he looked as if he longed for me in the same way, then said, “No, not now.” Then, we continued to get ready with oxygen tank, etc. He told me to drive my car and then, I was separated from him as the paramedics took him in the ambulance. I remember the absolute panic I had driving to the hospital, wanting urgently to see him again. I feel like that now sometimes, in a defeated kind of way. Jesus showed me that He understands my abandonment because He was separated from His Father when He died on the cross. Because He did this for me, I don’t have to be separated from God and someday, I will see Him face to face and I will be reunited with Gabe again. What a hope I have in Him!
This hope of eternity is how I walked through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23: 4). Christ experienced death so that I only have to walk in the shadow of it! I am thankful for those hard times of crying out to God in deep sorrow because it was there that I felt closest to Him. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18).
I recently ran my first 5K with Covenant Mercies RunFar. For me, this was a remarkable accomplishment, though I felt like I was going to die before I made it to the finish line! As I run, I liken the experience to life: The way I struggle up the hills and trails, then coast on the flat, sunny fields reminds me of the ups and downs of life. Then, the most thrilling part is crossing the finish line–a celebratory ending! What a glorious thought of that moment when we pass from this life to the next and see our precious Savior and our loved ones that we sorely miss. These thoughts motivate me to run the race of life with my eyes on the prize–heaven!
It has been 15 years since the loss of my husband and though I still miss him every day, the Holy Spirit is filling that deep chasm with His wonderful presence. I still think about heaven but not as often as I used to. Then, the Lord will send down a taste of heaven: a powerful encounter with Him in worship, a kind revelation of his purposes in suffering, a fun night screaming from the stands at my youngest son’s touchdown, the weddings of my older sons to godly young women, or laughing until I can’t breathe with family and friends. These are just a foretaste of what He has in store for me. “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).
Randy Alcorn says, “When we arrive there, Heaven will immediately feel like home because we’ll instinctively connect it to all we longed for and occasionally caught magical glimpses of while on earth.”
Though life is sad at times and pain and loss is certain, I am thankful that He gives us reasons to celebrate and hints of the eternal glories He has in store for us. I purpose to celebrate life and serve Him with all my heart while I am here on this earth, seizing the opportunities that He puts before me and expecting those brief, but wonderful previews of His glory that is all yet to be revealed.