a life Eternal

In her ninety’s and near death, Elizabeth was thin, frail, and completely unaware that I was with her in the room to which she had called home for many years.  I was in graduate school and chose to do my internship at a local Hospice agency. Elizabeth was one of many clients that I was asked to go visit, provide support to, offer counsel if necessary, or offer a hand to hold.  I nudged her hand, introduced myself, and whispered that I was there to sit with her a while.  She lay there, eyes shut, and not responsive to my presence.  I sat back in the chair next to her bed, looked around a bit, and watched her in silence.

Breath in…breath out…breath in….breath out…then…..Eyes open wide, arms reaching out to the Heavens, and with a strong voice, she declared,

“Oh, the trees.  The trees.  They are beautiful.  The streets.  They are golden…and the music.  The beautiful music….it’s the most beautiful music I’ve heard.  Yes…yes, I see her.  I don’t know her, but I will see her again.” 

I sat there frozen in my chair.  It is not that I did not move.  It is that I could not move.  I watched and listened to her as she spoke out loud.  I felt peaceful, and in that moment, I knew that I was witness to a celestial exchange.  I was partly in disbelief, but mostly in pure belief that I was allowed to hear a vision of Heaven.

As soon as she was through speaking, she went back to the slow, labored breathing to which I initially watched her do.  I too felt as though I could move around, and raised up in the chair, grabbed her hand, and just held it in silence for the remainder of the hour that I was there.  As my time with her drew to a close, I gently got up, leaned over her and said “I’m leaving for now.  Thank you for this time together.”  As I exited the room, I looked back once more at the frail woman lying in the bed to which her soul would escape to Heaven.

As I walked down the halls of the nursing home, I felt elation mixed with emotion and humility.  I kept hanging on to her words that described a Heaven to which my mind could only begin to imagine.  I also clung to the part of the conversation that seemed to include me.  I had never met Elizabeth before, and had never even stepped foot in that particular nursing home.  I did not even think she noticed me.  To my amazement, I realized that I was given a glimpse of the promise of eternal life.

I thought about this experience for many days after I visited her, and heard that she lasted about seventy-two hours after our visit, and died a peaceful death.  I never told anyone at the agency about my experience.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps, I was worried that they would try to apply a medical reason for her words.  Instead, I told those close to me.

While I had similar experiences with the elderly population I worked with, this experience definitely was different from the others.  I witnessed something not of this Earth.  My presence with her was not random.  I felt as though I had been invited into a private conversation between a dying Believer and the One True Mighty Father. 

It has been nearly thirteen years since this experience; still yet, here I am writing about it.  Thirteen years ago, I was barely clinging on to the faith of my childhood.  I had just started going back to church.  My heart was still compounded by confusion of past trauma, regrets, and an unknown future.  I was not yet married, not a parent, and not even sure of the path to which I would walk down.  Sitting here now, a mother to three children, a wife, a professional in child welfare, and a Believer in Jesus Christ, I am mightily aware and thankful for this experience with the sweet soul whose room I stumbled into as a graduate student.

It seems Eternity has been on my mind and heart lately.  Of all the things spoken of in Scripture, a life Eternal is by far the most incredible promise of all.  Perhaps it is the wailing of the world that is happening, or the yearning of my own heart to draw closer to the Lord, but as of late, my thoughts have been pressed on towards our Heavenly Home.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and through Him, we have salvation.  I am not ashamed or embarrassed to say this.  I am not less intelligent, naive, or intolerant.  I am a friend, daughter, sister, wife, mother, stranger, and acquaintance.

I am the person who messes up, or sometimes, gets it just right.  I am the one who overlooks others, or sometimes, bends down on knees for total strangers.  I have a temper, a sense of humor, a serious side, and a quiet side.  I am strong.  I am weak.  I am vulnerable at times, and completely unbreakable at others.  I am a Christian.

Through reading of the Word, and the blessed experience of the one described above, I fully believe in a life Eternal.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.   -Revelation 22:1-5

valley of death, Mercy of Life

The picture above is me during my last week or so in the hospital following my hysterectomy in 1983. I had escaped out of the valley of death . That smile across my face gives no indication of what had just happened but speaks volumes to the God-given resilience of children.

This is the only time I have come close to death. I was in the dying process before the doctors and surgeons decided to perform exploratory surgery as an effort to find out what was happening to me. I learned of this detail about two to three years ago. I knew I was extremely ill but no one ever told me that I was literally dying.

Following this disclosure by the doctor who performed my surgery, I sat there quietly with tears rolling down my face. I was so close to death as a child and never knew it. I grieved at that moment for my parents, family, medical staff, and for myself. Yet, the tears that streamed down my face were not just of sadness, but also of joy over the revealing of His wisdom that flowed through the doctors’ hands and of His mercy that kept me alive.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23

I was in a Christian youth singing group called “The Sweet Spirits” for the first few years following my hysterectomy. The musical director specifically picked my solo to be a rendition of Psalm 23. My mom and other familiar adults got tearful when I sang this song. How apropos this song was. I had truly just walked through the valley of the shadow of death just a year or so prior.

From time to time, this Psalm flows through my thoughts and I find myself reciting it for days. It is rather morbid to think about walking through the valley of the shadow of death. However, as a Christian, it is comforting to know that the valley of death precedes the glory of His Kingdom.

I have been thinking lately that we are in some way always in the shadow of death. One wrong turn, one missed step, one random act, one diagnosis…the list goes on. I want to start living as though I am in the shadow of death, but I don’t want that to be my focus. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I do not want to take moments for granted. More importantly, I hope to live for His Kingdom and for the promise of eternal life in Christ.

There are many things that have died within me along this journey to Heaven. Old habits, lack of trust, thin faith, and disbelief…all of these have passed away so that I can truly have life in Him. The awesome thing about living a life of faith is that when things get difficult, or when the shadow of death seems to be getting closer, one can always look to the Lord and see His mercies through it all.

Lord, help me to see Your mercy not only when I am in the valley of death, but also when my cup runs over, when I am in front of my enemies, when the pastures are green and the water is still, and when my eyes are eternally fixed on You.