The Green Hills of Heaven

“Grandpa! I had a funny dream last night!” I exclaimed while my grandmother prepared my breakfast. 

“What kind of dream did you have, sweetheart?” 

“I dreamed I was at the top of a hill where the grass was so thick and dark green it felt like plush carpet.  The sky was as blue as one could imagine, and just as I started to race down the hill in my bare feet, I grabbed your hand.  

Grandpa listened intently as I continued, “But, Grandpa, when I looked at you, you were my age!  Your hair was the color of amber, and your hands were youthful, showing no wrinkles or spots!” 

A wry smile illuminated my grandmother’s face as if she knew something I didn’t, and with a twinkle in her eyes, she explained.

“Sweetheart, you just were given a glimpse of Heaven.  And, one day after we leave this earth, I will meet you there, and we will race down that hill barefooted.”

Grandpa never lied

I was in my teens when I sat in Grandpa’s kitchen describing my dream.  And to this day, I believe with all my heart that I will see her again in a place where there are no weeds, no storm clouds, and no age. 

A man name Jesus suffered and died on a cross 2021 years ago.  He rose from the dead to tell the world there was a Heaven where sin is gone, and folks run down grassy slopes with no fear of falling.  And Grandpa and I believed Him.

Some pave the way for us to see a glimpse of Heaven.  Those precious family members, friends, and teachers take our tiny hands and guide us toward faith.  I was one of those who learned of Christ before I could write my name.  I had no doubt there was a God or a Heaven because I watched my family pray, read a Bible, and trust the Lord. They sent me to Sunday School and made me sit still in church.    I thank God every day for them and the grandmother who assured me I would see her again.  Grandpa never lied.

We need Easter

This Easter, there are well over 2.5 million people who long to see the face of a loved one who succumbed to COVID.  Countless others left families because of age, disasters, other illnesses, suicide, and murders.  Hearts broke, tears fell, and the world’s people have suffered immeasurably since the spring of 2020.  If ever we all needed to fall to the feet of the risen Lord, it is now.   If ever we need to rely on our faith, it is today.  Now is not the time to turn away but to run to the open arms of God.  We desperately need Him to forgive us our selfishness, stubbornness and remind us that we are His children. 

Grandpa lived 97 years, and during those years, I did see her suffer, but she had no doubt that one day the pain would end and living would continue.

 When my brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer in his early fifties, he noticed my sad face one day and tried to cheer me. 

“Guess what, Lynn!” He said with that same wry smile our grandmother exhibited.  “I am going to Heaven before you and eat all of Grandpa’s biscuits and homemade jelly before you get there!”

Faith is a blessing

Today, when I think of my departed family, I imagine they are laughing around a breakfast table eating Grandpa’s amazing biscuits and jam along with Jesus, who would never miss such goodness.  This vision always makes me smile because I also notice there is an empty chair waiting for me.

Faith is the blessing the Cross left us.  We have a choice as to whether we pick it up and carry it forward or not.  If we want to really heal and help others along the way, it might be a good idea to embrace its power.  A belief in the Lord has encouraged me to climb from many valleys of despair and grief.  The hand of God has pulled me from many an abyss and given me hope and an unbridled determination to press forward.  

Just before my father died in 1999, I walked toward the head of his bed and whispered, “Dad, are you scared?”  Without missing a beat, he answered, “What is there to be afraid of?”  Then as if they heard him, the angels took him home without a shred of fear in his soul. 

That is what Easter gave my father.  Christ rising from death and walking among those who lived on earth assured us all that we will run on grassy hills with those we love once again if only we believe.

The Heart of a Scottish Ancestor

My father and I acquired a characteristic from a Scottish ancestor who, if I go to heaven, I am going to have choice words with.  Our inherited faces, eyes mainly, cannot hide our emotions. 

Mom always said, “No use for you or your Dad to lie because your faces tell the whole story!”  So, that means we never got away with anything.  That same relative of long ago also bequeathed us a big mouth to accompany our tell-all eyes.  What a combination! 

If I am unhappy, friends will say, “What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing, I am fine.” And they quickly respond, “No, you’re not, I can tell!” 

Then, of course, I will narrate the whole story of why I am sad in full detail, which is always too much information.  Mama learned not to ask when she did not want to know.  She was a wise woman.

Throw anger away

The other day I found myself a bit miffed about a silly benign minor incident involving a group of good friends.  A few others felt as I did, but of course, only I was the one who could not conceal my disappointment.  During our lunch gathering, I wrongfully perceived I did an outstanding job of not looking directly at others and hiding my feelings, but I failed because they all knew how I honestly felt.

However, I have found that when someone does upset me, it is usually better to talk it out and throw all the anger away afterward.  Therefore, bitterness and resentment do not settle in my soul. 

A few can successfully stifle emotion and not let it cause harm, but not many.   My father could voice his temper, but once it was over, it was gone.  He could be hurt, but once he healed, he held no resentment.  He was not afraid to show tears cascading down his cheeks when he was sad, nor share his joy with those who needed a laugh. 

Create calm or chaos?

When we harbor rage, resentment, and hatred, it becomes venom.  Depression, violence, addictions, and loss can occur.  When we don’t allow ourselves to cry or feel we cannot express ourselves without fear of retaliation, we exacerbate our distress.

Sometimes our inward hurts turn into outright physical pain. We know stress creates disease and death.  Often our worries carry such a burden within our souls, our frustration spills over, and we lash out.  We say things we do not mean and regret our actions.

In society today, our anxiety and anger have become so apparent, we must ask ourselves what we can do to create calm instead of chaos?  We can disagree about almost anything, and it is our right to voice our opinions, but not to the point where we cause harm to others.  Losing friends or families being torn apart because of differing views is simply tragic, and it speaks volumes as to what takes precedence in our lives.

From darkness to light

A lone man sat in a dank prison cell around 62 AD.  He was known to be a hateful, mean-spirited bully in his younger days who participated in torturing those who did not believe as he did.  He was bitter, and his rage turned poisonous to those who encountered him until Saul was blinded by a brilliant light.  After three days, his sight was restored, and he was changed forever because he met Jesus,  the one he had previously persecuted. 

From his jailed darkness, the converted Apostle Paul wrote letters to spread the light of Christ throughout the world.  In his epistle to the Ephesians, he wrote: Stop being mean, bad-tempered, and angry.  Quarreling, harsh words and dislike of others should have no place in your lives. * 

Paul knew if the Good Lord could forgive him, then mercy, love, kindness, humility, and faith were the only way to get out of our self-imposed jails.

That same old Scottish ancestor also blessed Dad and me with something more than our big mouths, freckles, and bad hair.  I was given a deep faith not only in God but in mankind.  I firmly believe if we try, we can always become a better version of who we were yesterday. 

If we are worried, find ourselves angrily irritated most of the time, frustrated, or resentful, there is only one antidote to this debilitating poison.   Place the anguish into the same hands that transformed persecuting, revengeful Saul into Saint Paul the Apostle.  We might as well because God knows by looking at us how we honestly feel.

*Ephesians 5:31

Run into the Arms of Tomorrow

As I sat in the lobby of a hotel recently while visiting my daughter and granddaughter in Florida, I had the pleasure of seeing a family reunited.

The grandmother was sitting near me when her three small grandchildren rushed through the lobby doors.  The little girls ran as fast as they could, jumped into her arms as tears formed in her eyes.  Her daughter followed the racing girls and embraced her mother for far more than seconds. 

Their happiness overwhelmed me, and I found myself smiling from ear to ear underneath my mask.  Who knows how long it had been since their last embrace, the last sound of children squealing as they ran to Grandma’s open arms?  However, as of that moment, the distance and longing for a family finally ended.

Sweet memory

I recall years ago when my now 16-year-old granddaughter was young and flew to Atlanta for visits, she would run as fast as she could into my arms.  There is no better feeling in the world than to know you are loved by an innocent child.  The exuberant affection little children proudly display is a beautiful moment in time that we all too often do not appreciate. 

Before we know it,  the grandchild is grown, and the grandmother is gone. What remains is the memory of a love that has left an indelible mark within our souls.  Perhaps, our COVID isolation taught us to be more thankful for our time together, our reunions, our hugs, laughter, and our loves.

The virus took away so much for so many.  I have always said when we go through challenging times in our lives, we come through hardship one of two ways.  Either we will be filled with resentment that we endured such pain, or we are filled with gratitude and relish the fact we survived

Our love is intensified when we choose to forge forward with hope.  Our faith becomes more crucial if we choose to see God in all things.  Living becomes more joyful if we choose to not succumb to bitterness.  We become like the child whose love is racing into open arms without fear of rejection.

The Gatekeepers

Those who put others first during this crisis instead of personal ideology teach others to persevere through adversity.  They are the ones who will lead us to a healthier tomorrow and put us in touch with our better selves.  These unselfish souls should be heralded as the light of the world, the gatekeepers, and torchbearers for our children.

I do not know about you, but I am tired of the anti-this and that, the egos, the selfishness, the fights, the nasty anger, and the hate.  What good is it to welcome a new day when we are still stuck in the anguish of yesterday?  What innocent child would rush to such behavior?

We, instead, must be grateful we are still here to savor a tomorrow.  There are 2.7 million people in our world who will never greet another day, yet only a year ago were embracing their families.   Instead of complaining about how horrible life is, maybe we should be applauding the ability to simply breathe.

A Grateful heart

As I drove home from Florida, tears welled in my eyes as they always do when I leave my family.   Since my children live in other states spread across the country, I often feel sorry for myself that I cannot see them more often.  While other grandparents complain about their children not coming for Sunday dinner, I just pray to soon see mine again on some unknown future day.  

After we traveled a few miles, the tears quickly dried.  This time I relished those moments with the 16-year-old who no longer runs into my arms and the daughter who is in the busy, difficult time of life caring for a teenager.   Before COVID, I would cry for a whole day; now, why spend a day in tears?  I would rather not waste any days.

I feel I owe it to those who do not have another day to make my days count for good.  It is better to choose a better tomorrow instead of a bitter tomorrow.  I will ask God to forgive my errors as I forgive others and pray for the guidance to forge a path for those who once ran into my arms.

Hugs, smiles, touches, family, and friends are the joy of my life, and how blessed I am to live another day to treasure them all.  After a year of difficulty, I choose to be like the child who runs with wild abandonment towards tomorrow with open arms.    

True Leaders Carry Worn Bibles

A giant soul fell into the arms of God last month.  His passing was a consequential loss, not only for those who knew him well but because a good, Godly man left this world.  We need all the kind, Godly people we can get around here.  When God chooses to take the righteous home, I always pray another will attempt to feel those shoes, walk an honorable path, and become a giant.

Because of the pandemic, his funeral was held virtually.  I watched as the Methodist minister stepped up to the pulpit with a worn, broken Bible filled with letters and notes.  I recognized it immediately. 

The last time I visited my friend, Tom, and his wife, he was headed to Sunday school.  He walked into the kitchen carrying his pile of lessons and the old Bible secured against his chest with his left hand.  I could not help but notice it because it looked as if it might fall apart any second.   It resembled a file that held everything from envelopes to folded papers and possibly a cookie.  I never, for a moment, believed it would be the last time I had the honor of teasing him about hiding my pecan cookies that he always requested when I visited.

Perfect words

The minister carefully opened Tom’s Bible without disturbing its contents.  Before reading a scripture verse, he quoted a statement by the famed English Pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, which is so profound, I wrote it down immediately. 

“A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who is not.”

The Godly giant who leads an exemplary life continuously seeks truth and wisdom from their leader.  A leader thus is the follower of a Mighty God.  These disciples know to bow, weep, and pray for others.  They are not boastful, proud, or use power to obtain fame.  For the true leaders of our world, understand glory belongs only to a heavenly King.

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis, one of his first acts was washing inmates’ feet at a youth detention center.  He became a leader yet understood he is merely a servant.  He learned his role from the words of Christ found in the Bible.

“Your attitude must be like my own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:28. 

Tom’s Bible a symbol

Tom’s worn Bible was a symbol of where his earthly life was centered and a bridge toward eternal living once it was over.  Here, his good life holds no candle to what awaited him because he believed in and trusted his Lord.

I recall years ago walking into a Krispy Kreme near my house to pick up hot donuts for my Sunday School class.  A man was standing beside me as the girl behind the counter loaded two dozen donuts into boxes.

“I’ll bet you are headed to church with your donuts.” He remarked as he watched.

“Yes, I am, are you headed that way too?” I replied.

“No, never.  The churches are full of Bible-toting hypocrites.”  He espoused as if his statement was a fact.

I am not sure if I came up with the response or a Krispy Kreme whispering angel was in line, but I immediately said, “Yep, you’re right.  But where else are we supposed to go to find redemption if not to God?” 

He looked at me for a long minute, and then he smiled, as did I before I walked away.  For some reason, that moment has stuck with me like glue. 

Serving our leader

The best way to serve God is to draw someone close to him by the example we set.  We are not meant to be just readers of the Good Book but to use it as a guide for living abundantly.  When we show love for one another, offer compassion, abhor hatred, and serve others’ kindness is how we introduce a stranger to our leader.

To think we know all the answers to life, quite frankly, is preposterous. We do not, and we never will.   Tom’s scribbled notes, folded up between the Bible’s pages, revealed his continuing search for truth, for the right way to be the best example of living a life of faith.

We become discombobulated when we assume we are no longer servants.  We lose our way when our pride and intelligence push us to believe in our rules more than God’s laws. That never goes well; thus, we find ourselves being corrected and humbled. 

Some of us stubborn souls need correction quite often.  Or could it be our Bibles are just not worn enough, like Tom’s?

In loving memory of Tom Mahaffey  1940-2021