This is the one year anniversary of Carol's passing. I am slowly winding my way through the thinking part of coming to terms with her death. What follows is where I am on this one year marker.
People sometimes say to a grieving person, "so and so is in a far better place." They are well meaning and they want it to be comforting. I am not criticizing here but making an observation. Those words are true but they don't bring comfort, at least not right away. The truth is words don't initially bring comfort, your presence brings comfort. Words come much later. I have thought about that "far better place." Often we think of that far better place in terms of the absence of negative things such as no more pain, sorrow and tears. That is promised in scripture as being true. But scripture also gives indications of positive things that go to the core of our being and purpose that make the trials of this life seem as nothing. For me, those positives are encased the words Joy and Glory. They are difficult to talk about. After all, we are still on this side of the door to heaven and have only experienced them highly filtered through our earthly body and experiences. What would it be like to experience them unfiltered?
I have had two fleeting realizations of that far better place. The first one happened a few minutes after Carol passed away. I had this fleeting realization that Carol now knows what it is to be with God and I don't. Packaged into that sudden realization were all these thoughts: she is home, she knows what she was made to be and do, she knows her place, she can do it, she is experiencing the joy of participating, of being a part of, it is shear joy and glory and wonder all mixed together.
The second realization happened in a church service several months after her passing. The few months before Carol passed away, she could not stand for long periods of time and so would be seated while singing. I would stand next to her and could see her in my peripheral vision, singing with hands raised. I've come to realize that she was practicing for the real thing. Now, several months later I had this fleeting realization that once again, we were both worshiping…Carol in heaven and me in this church service. The contrast between my worship and her worship stunned me. She was really worshiping and I was playing at it. I was worried about how I looked. I wasn't joining in and participating. I was self absorbed. I didn't see the glory in it. Carol was participating in real worship, experiencing God sharing His glory with her. She was accepted, welcomed and taken into the dance…it was glorious.
If there is one word that expressed my experience of Carol it would be "joy." Joy was a characteristic of her being. More than happiness, it was an inner well being that made her eyes shine. On the fireplace mantel of our house in San Jose were ceramic letters spelling joy. We had purchased them in a gift shop in Rocky Mountain National Park back in 1970. They were a constant reminder to me of the joy expressed in Carol's life. Walk around our house and you will find the word "Joy" in surprising places. For example, there is a silver heart inscribed with the word "Joy" on the table next to the couch. You pick it up and it makes a harp-like sound.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11
Jesus said these words before His death. I struggle with the idea of joy and death in the same sentence. But when I think about just the joy part…joy that is complete shines out of a person as the result of being involved in something that is magnificent and beautiful. As a participant you can observe the glory and participate at the same time. The participation includes knowing your role and doing it well, making a unique contribution and being valued for it, and being appreciated and welcomed. The joy of participation wants to make you jump up and down.
Words just don't describe what I am trying to convey. There is a video clip that for me illustrates the joy of participation. It is not quite 5 minutes long. Watch it to the end and notice the faces when possible. The song is about seeing something magnificent. Notice how all are participating…even the audience gives approval as the choir reflects the beauty of what they have seen…enjoy.
There is nothing quite like participating in something that is bigger than you and that makes joy complete. It is what you were made to do. So, my idea of heaven is where we will participate together and whatever we are doing will bring joy. But wait, there is more! There is the promise of glory made possible by the work of Christ. C. S. Lewis describes it this way in his sermon, "The Weight of Glory."
"It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him…The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son--it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so."
There are some familiar images that help me understand what Lewis is getting at. One is of a father tossing his son in the air and catching him while the child says, "Do it again, daddy, do it again!" Another image is of a parent praising a child whose looking down at his feet, sheepishly glancing at his parent, toes pointed inward, hands behind his back, twisting from side to side and radiating happiness that he has pleased his parent. Then there is a group of school children that just finished a performance and joyfully looking at their teacher with raised hands and shouting, "We did it!" Most of us have witnessed such moments. These moments of desire, pleasure and joy as Lewis says, "are not tacked on to the activity … but are the activity itself in consummation."
Lewis describes it far better than I and you might like to read the full sermon. It is not an easy read, but it is worth it. I have to read it slowly or out loud to follow his logic. It is 9 pages in length…about half way through you will see where the logic is taking you.
So, being with God, or heaven, is where one is accepted, valued as unique and participates in a significant way. You have a contribution that only you can give and doing that brings shear joy. It will be what you were made to do. Whatever we will be doing in heaven we will be doing it together and every person will be uniquely contributing to the glory of God. The video and Lewis' sermon illustrate it as best I can imagine here on earth…our chief duty is to enjoy God…to do what we were made to do.
"We speak God's wisdom . . . which He predestined before the ages to our glory. . . . 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, God has prepared for those who love him.'"
I Corinthians 2:7-9
So those fleeting realizations, this thinking about a far better place, and attempting to express the essence of joy and glory are attempts to uncover those longings and desires for our true home where Carol is experiencing it and we cannot conceive it. So why did I go down this path? Well, I think I think, if Carol is experiencing that for which she was made in such unfiltered joy and glory, then all I can say is, OK, I wouldn't want her to come back to this existence just to relieve my being apart from her. She is in a far better place indeed. It doesn't relieve the ache of missing you Carol…but happy anniversary! In my tears there is the faint hope that someday they will be turned to joy and that I too will be welcomed into that great dance by God Himself. Me too, Lord, me too.
I've gone through my notes and journaling and thought out loud with you as I have tried to think through my grief. I need to take a break from this writing. Maybe there will be more later and if so I will send it out. Thank you so much for listening. Your prayers and comments let me know of your love and tears as well. Thank you.
Someday, may God Himself, the God of peace and joy welcome us all into the great dance. What joy and glory that will be.
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